A new town in a new nation
The tok-tok weaved its way through the pot-holes and sand-traps on the long, dusty road from Aweil to Apada.
Just a few months ago, this place was “nothing but trees and scrub-land” said one man. There is little evidence of the trees he spoke of, as ten-thousand people have arrived from northern Sudan and need homes; the trees form part of their rustic shelters.
Apada is one of the biggest returnee camps in South Sudan, land allocated to them by the government. But little awaits them, with no homes, no jobs, and little in the way of water and sanitation. Long queues stand outside NGO-organised water distribution points that have been established, but if this is to be one of South Sudan’s newest towns—and this is no temporary camp—then infrastructure needs to be developed.
Workers here say that the government is focused on the referendum, and so everything here—aside from the land—is provided by international humanitarian organisations. The most urgent need is shelter, but the NGOs are trying to provide vaccinations for children, hygiene promotion, food security and job opportunities. “We are looking for professionals” says a representative from the International Rescue Committee, hoping to source teachers and nurses from those arriving from the north. “Malaria is a big problem here, as it is not prevalent in the north.”
Over the next three months, the size of the “town” is expected to grow to over eighty thousand people, making it a major settlement in South Sudan.
Despite the difficulty that these returnees face, both from the arduous journey here, and the situation that faces them on arrival, many are upbeat. “I am really happy to be back in my original place” says Yel Yel Anei, who has lived in the north since 1993. During his journey back to the south, his convoy was attacked by armed militia in South Kordofan, extorting money from those traveling if they were found with “illicit” items. “My father was stopped because he had an American dollar bill” says Yel, who had to pay 150 Sudanese pounds (over $50) to release him.
Nyibol Deng was less fortunate. Her convoy was attacked in South Kordofan, and militia demanded money from them. “We didn’t have anything, so they started beating us” she says, sitting on a stool with a suspected broken leg from the attack. “I have lived in Khartoum all my life and never seen my ancestral land.”
She is now back in that land, and will begin the long process of constructing not just her new life, but the town in which she will live it.