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Caritas helps rebuild south Sudan

No water or school – a village in Eastern Equatoria swissinfo.ch

Swiss non-governmental organisation Caritas is helping rebuild southern Sudan after 21 years of civil war.

This content was published on March 16, 2007 - 14:09

It is supporting projects to help restore water, food and medical services to the region, as well as to bolster civil society.

"The main problem in Torit is water. We only have one pump feeding the whole water network," said Dario Borok, infrastructure minister in Eastern Equatoria, one of the states which makes up the autonomous southern region.

"Recently it broke and the whole population didn't have any water for a week."

Torit, a city of several thousand people which is the centre of the regional government and the area's diocese, is a typical case.

The conflict left virtually no infrastructure in the south – the road network is very basic, the water and health systems are very much reduced and there are hardly any teachers.

The peace deal between the government in the north and the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in 2005 granted the south some autonomy. But the southern government has yet to make its presence felt on an everyday level.

"The services for the population have not developed as I thought," said Akio Johnson, bishop designate for the Torit diocese.

During the conflict the Catholic church took on many tasks normally the responsibility of the state, particularly in health and schooling. In many places it is the primary provider of services.

Its local network makes it is an ideal partner for Caritas Switzerland in southern Sudan.

"The good relations with the Torit diocese have led to us focusing our activities on Eastern Equatoria," said Marc Bloch, Caritas' representative in Nairobi.

They have been collaborating to improve access to water, health care and education in the region.

Isoke projects

Among the places included in the projects is Isoke, a village surrounded by mountains which was heavily bombarded during the conflict. "The north's air force tried to hit the school," recalls Sister Pasquina. "But the mountains in some way protected it."

The Torit diocese also looks after a clinic in the village, which offers basic medical services.

But the most seriously ill patients have to be transported to the next hospital in the town of Kapoeta. This is 25 kilometres away via a dirt track - which is almost impossible to use when it rains.

"Sometimes patients die during the journey," says Sister Florence.

The village also houses a model garden project, where new crops are tried out, such as manioc, an edible shrub, which is little known in the region but grows well in arid conditions.

"In the surrounding settlements farmers almost only grow sorghum," said Denis Okumu, the project's head. "We're trying to convince them to diversify their production to ensure greater food security."

But one of the most important Caritas-supported programmes in Isoke is the drinking water pipe.

"We capture the river above the settlements to avoid water contamination," explained Benjamin Wekesa, a Kenyan engineer. "We make users pay a very small monthly fee to cover at least part of the maintenance costs."

Real needs

For Caritas, it is important that the projects meet the real needs of the population and can eventually carry on without foreign aid.

Collaboration with local authorities and community associations is therefore of vital importance.

Caritas' reference point in Isoke is the Lomohidang Valley Development Initiative (Lovadi), an association founded by young people from Isoke after they returned from studying in Uganda.

"We came back and we sat down and talked to our people to know what we could do," said association member Titus Obura.

By supporting Lovadi and other associations, Caritas can do much more than just guarantee the sustainability of the projects it finances.

"By reinforcing these associations we also reinforce civil society," said Abduba Ido, the Caritas Switzerland project manager for Eastern Equatoria.

"Civil society needs to know how to remind the political authorities of their responsibilities. NGOs should not be a substitute for the government for providing services," he said.

swissinfo, based on an Italian article by Andrea Tognina

Key facts

Eastern Equatoria is one of Sudan's 26 federal states and is part of the autonomous south of the country.
It is 82,542km² (about twice as big as Switzerland).
In 2006 the population was estimated at around 225,000 inhabitants.

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In brief

The conflict between the mainly Arab and Muslim north of Sudan and the south, mostly Christian and animist, hit Africa's largest country hard.

Tensions between the two regions already started in 1955, a year before the country gained independence, and lasted until 1972.

The conflict restarted in 1983 after around ten years of truce. In January 2005 the Sudanese government and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) signed a peace deal.

The deal allowed for autonomy in the south and 2011 was fixed for a referendum on independence. A government has been formed for the region at Juba. It is controlled by the SPLA.

The accords also include sharing oil revenue equally. 80% of oil resources are situated in the south of Sudan.

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