Home | News    Thursday 23 August 2007

South Sudan needs river transport to boost economy


August 22, 2007 (JUBA, Sudan) — Landlocked south Sudan must spend more to develop its river transport and facilitate trade needed to rebuild the semi-autonomous region after decades of civil war, officials and traders said on Wednesday.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir opened Juba’s new river port on Tuesday, but traders and officials said the $2 million crane was too small to make a real impact on the economy.

John K. Pan Paguir, director-general of trade at the south Sudan Commerce Ministry, said earlier visions of a large port with a dredged river to reach its full capacity had not been realised because the government had not recognised its importance.

"Now we realize the impact, that there’s a need for it. ... What is trade without transport?" he said, adding, "There is a lot of lobbying now by parliamentarians and businessmen."

Air transport is expensive and the southern road network is blocked during months of rainy season and is not fully demined. Poor road-construction and bad contracts signed by the ministry had done little so far to correct the problem, Paguir said.

Sudan signed a north-south peace deal in 2005, ending Africa’s longest civil war, which included power and wealth sharing, the formation of a semi-autonomous southern government and the south the right to vote for secession by 2011.

The Transport Ministry’s budget for 2007 was some $140 million, the second largest portion after the south’s massive army. Parliamentarians said there was also money rolled over from 2006 which had not been spent.

Japanese government funds paid for the new Juba port and crane, which can offload 2-3 tons at a time. Paguir said the government needed to spend at least $5 million to $6 million to provide bigger cranes.

Businessmen already using the river route said expensive and time-consuming handling for the few barges was one reason why the river remains largely empty of traffic despite a demand to transport goods from north Sudan and neighbouring countries.

"(On the barge) it is only $200 per ton from Kosti to Juba, which is very cost effective," transport businessman Francoise Henepin said of the 1,435 km river route.

"But offloading is $15 to $20 per ton by hand, probably the most expensive in the world," he said.

Henepin said the new crane was too small to make a big difference to handling costs.

"We need something that can take vehicles, and heavy machinery," said Ali Osman, head of the private northern River Transport Company, which brings cement, fuel and sugar south.


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