“This is a sign of peace,” says Malish Sebit, with a smile, as he points out to a freshly repaired section along the Juba-Yei road.
He is a frequent motorcycle user on this stretch of the road, from Gorom to Bungu, and he is elated.
“Since the road is being repaired, now we are able to move around; that means peace has come,” he says, while straddled across his motorcycle.
“Our children can now go to school,” he adds.
Most of the main supply routes in South Sudan are in constant need of repair, and convoys to different parts of the country often suffer delays or damage – making transportation, access and delivery of humanitarian assistance a herculean task.
The UN Mission in the country has intervened, with major road rehabilitation works, and Sebit and other road users can now also happily ply this route in half the time they used to, before repairs started.
For Sebit, there is relief and a big financial value.
“Now the road is good. That means we are not going to suffer any more. We are no longer going to have to constantly repair our motor bikes, six or seven times a month, and the money we used to repair the motor bike I will use to pay for the school fees of my children, and the balance will help solve some family issues,” says Sebit.
Other road users, with larger vehicles, feel the same way.
“This road was very rough – big holes, and even movement was a bit difficult, especially when moving in an ambulance, driving from the camp up to Juba. But right now I appreciate the road is now going smoothly,” says Tatisio Keyi, a driver for a humanitarian organization.
As these motorists ply the road, there is a hive of activity as road engineers from Thailand, working for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), work on repairing the all-weather marram road.
The engineers are racing against time. The rainy season is at hand, and all works will have to stop at the onset of the rains.
Bulldozers, graders, rollers and other heavy machinery have been deployed along this stretch, and up to sixty road engineers have been busy working on four to five kilometers of road, every day. They are eventually expected to finish off the 150-kilometer road all the way into Yei.
“Because of the road condition, there are many parts that were damaged,” says Major Thananphat Diewvilai from the Thai Horizontal Military Engineering Company, as his team works in Bungu, a few kilometers from the country’s capital Juba.
“We have to backfill with the marram soil. To backfill we need the excavator to extract the marram and the dump-trucks to transport the marram to the construction site, and then we will use the bulldozer and the grader for the leveling and we will finally compact with the roller,” he explains.
For now, rehabilitation works have ceased at 45-kilometers, because the rains have started.
Years of civil war allowed minimal progress in infrastructural development, and the country’s road network has suffered greatly, with rampant insecurity on the poorly maintained roads negatively affecting economic and social development.
“We know that when people are able to travel to meet with each other, it is easier to build trust and confidence,” says David Shearer, the Head of UNMISS.
“In many areas where roads have been improved, we have seen a decrease in violence between groups and an increase in reconciliation and peace-building activities,” he adds.
With engineers from UNMISS stepping in to help rehabilitate close to 2,500 kilometers of road countrywide, access has been possible, enabling various areas to flourish economically, while also allowing United Nations and other humanitarian agencies to benefit from their use.
“Our primary aim is to open up the main supply routes so that our logistics convoys can go through – all the convoys which are taking fuel, rations, material to places like Bentiu, Bor, Pibor, Wau Kuajok – but also the huge beneficiary of this process are the local communities, the government itself, other funds and agencies and programs,” says Rahul Batra, the Chief Engineer at UNMISS tasked with ensuring these main supply routes are up to speed. “In fact, everyone benefits from it – it’s a win-win situation,” he adds.
Engineers from Bangladesh, China, India, Thailand, South Korea and the United Kingdom, have spent six months working intensively levelling and grading roads as well as repairing supporting infrastructure, such as culverts and bridges. They have focused on major routes from Juba to Bentiu (940km), Juba-Bor-Pibor (400km) and Malakal (200km).