Partnership for Development in Southern Sudan
by Linda Unger
Even as you read these words, the people of Southern Sudan are opening their eyes to a new reality: independence. This July, we welcome them as citizens of the world's newest nation and as partners in the pursuit of global peace and development. On July 9, 2011, the independent government of Southern Sudan is to be formally constituted. Earlier this year, the Southern electorate voted overwhelmingly to secede from the Republic of the Sudan.
The new nation faces enormous challenges to its own development. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Southern Sudan lacks infrastructure and basic services. It has only nascent structures for governance and the rule of law. And it will have to reintegrate large numbers of refugees, former combatants, and people who were internally displaced.
Before the separation of North and South, Sudan was "one of the most complicated places in the world to work in," says Alan Moseley, Sudan program officer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Before Sudan's split, the United Nations already considered it one of the 49 "least developed countries" in the world. A series of criteria go into making this assessment, including low per capita income and literacy rates, high infant and maternal mortality, the prevalence of malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, and low school enrollment. Other economic, social, and geographic standards also reveal a lack of development.
With more than half its very young population living below the poverty line (72 percent of Southern Sudanese are under the age of 30), Southern Sudan is likely to expand the least-developed countries list to 50. Such countries figure prominently in the United Nations Millennium Declaration--the basis for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). This UN declaration, made in September 2000, affirms shared responsibility by the nations of the world for ensuring that "globalization becomes a positive force for all of the world's people." It announces a series of principles, resolutions, and goals devised to eliminate the handicaps now faced by developing nations and economies in transition.
A Global Partnership
Of the eight MDGs, the final one is the most specific: "Develop a Global Partnership for Development." Its six subsections address trade and finance, new technologies, debt, the problems faced by landlocked and island nations, and the special needs of the least developed countries.
Governments, multilateral institutions, and corporations that could ease the economic and financial burdens borne by struggling nations are priority targets of Goal #8. The explicit appeal to partnership in this goal underscores the intent behind the MDGs as a whole. It acknowledges nations' responsibilities to one another in a global context, while affirming the dignity of those countries that face the greatest challenges, such as the new Southern Sudan.
Yet Goal #8 is directed not only from nation to nation but also from one human community or one human being to another. As a faith-based, community-led organization, UMCOR employs a partnership model in all its program areas, including its nongovernmental organization (NGO) or field-office operations. From the start, UMCOR's field office in Sudan engaged with partners at the grassroots level as well as with national and international NGOs and government institutions. With the independence of Southern Sudan, these partnerships become critical to UMCOR's ability to support the new nation as it struggles to its feet.
In February 2005, UMCOR Sudan opened its doors as an NGO in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. This took place about a month after the government in the North and rebels in the South formally ended 20 years of hostilities and signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. UMCOR Sudan's first task was to provide humanitarian aid to people who had been internally displaced because of widespread violence in the province of Darfur, located in the North. The congregation of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, was instrumental in getting UMCOR started in Darfur and continues to fund UMCOR education, water, and sanitation programs there.
USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the UN Development Program's Peace and Stability Fund, and the UN's Common Humanitarian Fund in Sudan are supporters and partners of UMCOR programs in internally displaced persons' camps. These UMCOR programs include shelter provision, latrine repair, hygiene promotion, skills training, and school construction. United Methodists and other people of good will are also partners in these programs through the Sudan Emergency Advance. After UMCOR Sudan opened its Khartoum office, it initiated projects in two Southern Sudan locales: Yei, in 2006; and Aweil, in 2009. These locations are separated by a vast expanse of more than 500 miles and by separate operational and humanitarian issues.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 called for a referendum on independence for the South. After a week of voting last January, more than 98 percent of Southern Sudanese chose independence. UMCOR--while maintaining its administrative office in Khartoum and its programs in Darfur--prepared to open an office in Juba, the new country's capital, just as other international relief and development organizations were doing. Like them, UMCOR embraced the challenge to expand its programming and strengthen its partnerships.
Work at the Community Level
"The big focus of the international community," says Sharad Aggarwal, "is to support the state in Southern Sudan. UMCOR is focusing on the community level, where our strength is." Aggarwal is UMCOR's field-office program director in nine countries, including Southern Sudan. "We're going to include a lot more capacity-building activities at the community level," he added. "And then we will also liaise with other programs at higher levels of government to make sure there are connections between our programs and those of governors and central-level government in Juba. But we want to stay true to our traditional focus on community-based programming."
Northern Bhar el Ghazal State, where Aweil is located, is close to the border with Sudan--and to Darfur in particular. Until now, programs there have had to take into account the impact of war and violence. There, UMCOR has built schools, drilled boreholes, erected latrines, conducted hygiene and cholera-prevention training for community health workers, and responded to natural emergencies, including floods in 2010.
In Yei, which is closer to Juba, UMCOR has worked primarily with Congolese refugees and the communities that host them. There, the field office has constructed and equipped schools, built latrines, drilled boreholes for well water, and repaired and equipped a medical clinic.
Partners in Southern Sudan include the government's Basic Services Fund (BSF); the US Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; the Holston Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, based in Tennessee; and the Sudan Emergency Advance. In addition to its Darfur work, Ginghamsburg UMC is supporting health programs in Southern Sudan. And the communities themselves provide vision and labor, assuming responsibility for all that the aid programs produce, from latrines and boreholes to schools and community health.
A new partnership with the European Commission is allowing UMCOR to develop livelihood programs among Southern Sudanese communities in Central Equatoria State, where UMCOR's Yei office is located. These programs provide improved varieties of seed for farming, training in good planting practices, the establishment of fish farms, and support to help toolmakers improve the quality of the farm tools they forge.
"UMCOR made a large matching contribution to the grant we received from the European Commission," says Alan Moseley. "It was required. We were able to do that because of the contributions we received from United Methodists and others to the Sudan Emergency Advance." The contributions from UMCOR partners in the pews are "great," he underscored. "They give us flexibility and allow us to fill in the gaps and leverage gifts that much more."
As Southern Sudan begins its new life as an independent country, it will face residual issues stemming from the conflict that raged between the North and South for 20 years. There will be continued tensions; reintegration of internally displaced persons and returnees from abroad; the care of thousands of refugees from other countries; and natural disasters, such as the flooding in 2010.
Nevertheless, Aggarwal says, "This year, 2011, is an exciting one for the country." With the support of partner governments, organizations, and individuals intent on fulfilling the letter and spirit of the MDGs, may this excitement extend well into the future.
Linda Unger is UMCOR staff editor and senior writer.
Date posted: Jul 22, 2011