Home | News    Tuesday 25 July 2006

Interview with UN Deputy Resident for South Sudan

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July 24, 2006 (JUBA) — Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) that ended 21 years of civil war between north and south, the establishment of the new interim constitution on 9 July 2005 marked the beginning of a six-year interim period. In 2011, a referendum will determine whether the south will remain part of a united Sudan or become independent.

IRIN spoke to David Gressly, UN Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for southern Sudan, about the international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and support the new government of southern Sudan (GOSS) in setting up a civil administration and rebuilding the war-torn region. Below are excerpts of the interview in Juba.

Question: Your office has been assisting the GOSS in setting up its federal structure, as well as the 10 state governments. Where do things stand now?

Answer: Basically, the government started to perform on 9 July last year, with the appointment of the president and vice-president of the south and it wasn’t until October that that structure deepened with the establishment of the ministers and the cabinet. Subsequently, [state] governors were appointed and more recently we had the appointment of under-secretaries and directors, the judiciary, and now the commissions, the chairpersons and the deputy-chairpersons and in some cases additional positions. Bit by bit all these pieces have fallen into place.

But the structure is still quite thin. There are very few technical people who execute the policies that are being developed by the new government. So it is a government in formation and it will continue to be so, probably until the end of 2007.

However, it is in a position to have an impact. It just has some difficulty in disbursing all its funds, which is a fundamental constraint. And it still faces restrictions in terms of its payroll, procurement and other financial systems. So those are core functions that all need to be put in place as quickly as possible to make maximum use of the oil revenues.

In contrast to the [federal] state level, which is a varied picture, some of the civil administrations in towns such as Juba, Wau and Malakal functioned during the war, with a structure in place. There is a need for reform of those administrative structures, but they do exist. So in some cases they have a certain sense of government that Juba [the GOSS] does not have. Other states are much more problematic; they have even less capacity than the central government and will continue to have difficulties performing the duties of administration and service delivery that we expect of a state government - that the people of Sudan will expect. That will continue this year and next.

And then there is the county level, which is another - generally very weak - layer. There are certain counties that have the capacity to administer now, but they remain a minority and a great deal of work is required. In general, we have a lot of NGOs working at the county level, which supports their capacity building.

At the state level, the UN agencies are more involved. OCHA [the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] has worked with the SSRRC [the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission] at the state level to help build up - in some and eventually in all states - physical infrastructure as well as supporting some of the staff and start-up costs, etc, and [it] will train SSRRC staff. This is being replicated by other agencies. UNDP [UN Development Programme] is placing management advisers in each of the 10 state capitals who will be working directly on finance and planning-related issues to assist in capacity building of those critical core functions at that level. Other UN agencies provide capacity at the local level to advise on how to manage certain state services.

- How important are these state level institutions for the delivery of services?

A: The government of southern Sudan envisions a decentralised model of government with a great deal of responsibility devolved to the states; particularly when it comes to service delivery in education, health, water, etc. Therefore it is critical that their systems develop quickly so that they can realise this vision but there is a long way to go. My understanding, from discussions with senior government officials, is that they consider this an important component in terms of how they see a stable southern Sudan. So, it is important politically, as well as important in terms of delivering services.

- Can you describe the spectrum of the challenges you encounter in supporting the setting-up of state governments?

A: There is a governor in every state, there are state ministers for all the functions, there is a state assembly, all but two states have a state constitution, there are county commissioners who take their work down to the county level, some have working schools, and a school administration, teachers and so forth, health workers - some - it’s really done on a volunteer basis - through the assistance of NGOs. So that varies from state to state.

Juba represents one end of the spectrum where there is an ongoing functional government that operated during the war. Here, it is more a discussion of how to assist that government in reforming or improving those services and less about setting up structures.

On the other side of the spectrum would be Kwajok, which is the interim capital of Warrap State, where, frankly, there is nothing. There are hardly any government officials, no infrastructure, no telecommunications, and certainly no systems of administration or service delivery. The UN and NGOs would have to start their systems from basically nothing. The challenge is multi-dimensional, because, even for the UN or NGOs to become established there, a major piece of work would be required just to set up operations to be effective on the ground, and second, to help the institutions there physically to establish themselves and start working on the [administrative] systems that go with that.

Because of the logistical constraints it is difficult to get to places such as Kwajok at this time of year. There is no airstrip; you cannot go overland, so it’s virtually isolated unless you can get a helicopter flight. So it is extremely difficult to maintain operations there.

But they represent the two ends of the spectrum. All 10 states have tremendous challenges ahead of them, but states such as Warrap have particular challenges - because they have also received a large number of returns from the north and also a lot of southern-based IDPs [internally displaced persons] who have been trying to return to Warrap State. There are many, many challenges for this new government to address with very few systems and resources.

- As state structures are being established, a lot of the service delivery is carried out by the international community. What are some of the key challenges?

A: First, the people of southern Sudan want security. A lot of work is being done by the government of southern Sudan, supported in particular by the UN Mission in Sudan to help improve the level of security. We’ve seen substantial improvement in Equatoria over the last three or four months.

A second issue is infrastructure improvement in Juba and other state capitals. That would be managed largely by the GOSS with the assistance of the MDTF [Multi Donor Trust Fund, which pools contributions from various bilateral donors in a common fund]. The work in Juba should be starting shortly in terms of roads, housing, government building renovation, sanitation, water systems and electrical systems and the same will need to be replicated in other state capitals.

The UN agencies in particular and certain NGOs are focusing more on systems that will support the more rural areas - not exclusively but predominantly. Top of the list is roads and de-mining roads. So far, approximately 1,500 kilometers of roads have been reconstructed through the World Food Programme’s programme of assistance and more than 3,000 kilometers of roads have been surveyed, and the dangerous areas have been cleared where identified. That has substantially opened up the south to commerce and transport; promoting the movement of people and goods. This is now starting to have an impact on prosperity, at least in those areas accessible by road. But of course that leaves enormous challenges in terms of road access; 1,500 kilometers is not a great deal and much more will need to be done. WFP itself has a substantial programme, which will be at least another 1,500 kilometers - the GOSS will fund a part of that as well as road projects that will be more permanent than WFP’s, including paved roads into Juba.

In addition to roads and de-mining, food security is a major concern. Lack of access to markets that can produce surplus food is a major constraint. A great deal of food has been brought into southern Sudan this year. This will continue probably into next year, until these areas become really food self-sufficient or have access to markets that can provide food, but that is not likely until 2008. One good piece of news this year is that nearly 90 percent of the food has been brought in over land [in previous years 80 percent was flown in], saving a substantial amount of money that can be used to buy more food.

The increased availability of food means school-feeding schemes can operate, complementing UNICEF’s support for the GOSS’s ’Going Back To School Initiative’. That initiative alone has brought about a 60 percent increase in the number of children going to school this year: a rise of more than 300,000 to over 500,000. Another key issue that people are looking forward to is the ability to send their children back home.
The lack of educational facilities here in southern Sudan remains a constraint for people who want to return. This programme - if it succeeds - will help to remove that.

Water is probably the number-one concern, besides security and food, and will remain a substantial challenge for years. We probably require more than 20,000 boreholes just in the rural areas - and that is not even considering urban water systems - to provide adequate water to southern Sudan. We found we only have the resources, including all the UN agencies as well as NGOs, to put in maybe 1,500 boreholes a year, so we are only reaching a small percentage of the total needs. I think that puts into context the real challenges we face - the resources that are available to assist the GOSS and the enormity of what needs to be done to build a prosperous society here in southern Sudan.

Another issue that everybody is concerned about is lack of access to healthcare. Right now, UN agencies and NGOs reach approximately 20 percent of the population. In certain areas the GOSS and state governments can reach an additional percentage, but the overall access is still quite low and it remains a major challenge to increase that access in years to come.

- Is the international community doing enough - or are expectations too high?

A: Expectations are high. We certainly could use - both on the humanitarian but particularly on the recovery and development side - more resources. The funds coming in for humanitarian [work are] still below last year’s, even though the humanitarian concerns remain the same. It is important to remember that right now the bulk of the service delivery for water, health and education is coming from the humanitarian assistance. A drop in humanitarian assistance will lead to a real decline in service delivery. It remains a concern for this year and into 2007.

Where things have moved particularly slowly is in the recovery and development area. Resources are available; predominantly through the Multi Donor Trust Fund, but the fund, which is administered by the World Bank, has a process that takes time. In most countries it takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months to see a result. So even when you have substantial resources right now, the impact is not yet visible. In 2007, we are likely to see the impact of that, but we need early recovery funding and that’s what really missing. Very limited resources are coming into UN agencies and NGOs for areas where we can have a direct impact. A total of about $40 million to spend in education and water is very small compared with the overall needs in southern Sudan.

There will be a need for continued political engagement in southern Sudan. You cannot underestimate the value of that. The success of the CPA is not yet assured. It is still moving in the right direction, albeit slowly, but it is important that the international community engages politically on the CPA to ensure it does reach all its objectives and to ensure that the right of self-determination for the south is recognised.

There are a number of key issues that need to be watched: the border commission, the Abyei commission, the reconciliation of armed groups, preparations for the census scheduled for 2007, and of course the elections, which are scheduled for the beginning of 2008. All of these require political as well as financial support.

- So is southern Sudan on the right track?

A: Despite many of the resource and logistical constraints for recovery in southern Sudan, progress is being made by the GOSS, its partners in the international community, the UN and NGOs. It is a different - and better - place to 12 months ago. This is the time to continue to invest so that this increase in prosperity is widened and deepened, so that it endures; so that the people of southern Sudan do not have to go through what they had over the last 50 years, facing another period of war.

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The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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