Weeks before South Sudan marks its independence, UNICEF is helping meet the longterm needs of children in troubled border areas
By Simon Ingram
Malakal, south Sudan, May 19, 2011: The bullet hole sits high on the whitewashed wall of what is in other respects a perfectly normal conference room, of the kind you might find in a UNICEF office anywhere in the world. But to the staff of UNICEF’s Malakal office, the broken plaster – and its ricochet in the frame of a map on the opposite wall – is a stark reminder of the challenges they face, close to what, come July 9th, will be a brand-new international border between Sudan and its new-born neighbour to the south.
A month after armed militia clashes which killed more than 40 people – and left its mark on the UNICEF office – an edgy calm has returned to Malakal.
It’s a situation with grim implications for young mothers like 18 year old Fatina. Four weeks ago, she brought her severely malnourished son, Manjok, to Malakal’s paediatric hospital fearing for his life.
“We really appreciate UNICEF’s support in improving the hospital infrastructure,” Mr Lor Nyak told UNICEF’s visiting Director of Emergency Operations, Louis-George Arsenault.
“We hope that UNICEF will continue to work with the government to improve the delivery of health services for children,” Mr Lor Nyok added.
State officials worry that the strain on Malakal’s slender health and other services may soon increase. Since January, when the people of south Sudan voted overwhelmingly to break away from the rest of the country, some 45,000 people have returned to Upper Nile from Khartoum and the north, according to deputy State Governor Anderia Maya. He says many more could soon be on the way.
“Every year we have to deal with emergencies,” says Mr Maya. “But we don’t have the nurses, teachers or other services to cater for their basic needs.”
UNICEF has run operations out of Malakal since 1994. Its staff work with the government and other partners across three states – Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei – implementing a full range of health, nutrition, water and sanitation, child protection, HIV/AIDS and education programmes.