On July 9th, South Sudan became the world’s newest nation after a referendum vote in favor of independence in January. As someone whose early activism and research focused on slavery and conflict in Sudan, it is inspiring to see such hope for the future ten years later.
But South Sudan’s independence day is only the beginning. There is still much work to do to ensure security, protection of human rights, and a prosperous future for people in North and South Sudan.
As the One Campaign points out on their blog, access to health care and education are still major barriers for many South Sudanese:
Unfortunately, human lives were not the only casualty of war. Currently, most South Sudanese have very limited access to health care, and 30 percent have no access whatsoever. There are only eight secondary schools in Warrap State, which has a population of 1 million people. The past few years have seen an influx of more than 2 million refugees from the North, further burdening the underdeveloped system.
Dropout rates in South Sudan are the highest in the world, with less than 25 percent of children in school. Of the students who do make it school, more than 80 percent are in temporary shelters, and less than 15 percent have desks and chairs for the students. Finding a teacher is also difficult, as the adult literacy rate is less than 25 percent. Girls suffer the most. In 2009, only 9 percent of girls finished primary school.
“We need basic education for our children,” one mother pleaded to humanitarian organization World Concern. “The government promises free education, but there are not enough schools. Then we need to provide a uniform and a registration fee [costing about $67]. We don’t have money for schools.”
Oxfam America has also expressed concern about having inadequate UN peacekeeping forces and urged the UN to “save lives, not pennies”:
Despite the government’s laudable public commitments to protecting its people from violence, South Sudan still needs support from the international community to keep civilians safe and promote law and order, Oxfam said. The decision on troop numbers and civilian components should put the people of South Sudan first and certainly not go below the modest recommendations made by the Secretary-General in his report.
“Hundreds of billions of dollars has been spent in Afghanistan and more recently over 1 billion was spent in three months in Libya. That is the cost of the current UN mission in Sudan for a whole year. Southern Sudanese deserve to get the full backing of the UN Security Council,” said Hagon.
Unfortunately, there is a contingency in Congress that is pushing hard to cut funds for the UN at a time when the world urgently needs support. The House already defeated one amendment to prohibit paying UN dues, but 177 representatives voted in favor, and the issue isn’t going away any time soon, with powerful representatives like House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) beating the drum on this issue. This is a critical time to push Congress to work cooperatively with international institutions and pay our fair share for the good of people in South Sudan and around the world.