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Paving the road to recovery in South Sudan’s Unity State

By Musa Mahadi/WFP

The World Food Programme (WFP) is helping to restore a key roadway submerged in the aftermath of years of flooding in South Sudan’s Unity State. The Bentiu-Panakuach arterial road is the only means of connecting communities and towns  that have been cut off from each other after devastating floods hit the region affecting  people’s homes, livelihoods and possessions.

South Sudan has seen devastating floods for over three years, with the worst of the onslaught occurring over the last two years. Prior to the record-breaking rainfall, the Bentiu-Panakuach road connected the four counties of Mayom, Guit, Rubkona and Abiemnom and connected Unity State’s capital, Bentiu, to the oil-rich border town of Heglig. The 18 kilometer stretch of road is the artery through which the local economy pulsed, making trade possible between South Sudan and its northern neighbour, while also enabling WFP to bring in lifesaving food assistance from its hub in El Obeid in Sudan.

WFP began the dyke and road repair work in December 2021 when it became clear aid, trade and travel into the State would be limited to unaffordable air deliveries, unless immediate action was taken.

In the aftermath of devastating floods in Unity State, more than 200,000 people have been affected with many communities losing their livestock, precious crops, and homes. According to a report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the Ministry of Agriculture, out of estimated 795,558 animals lost across the country nearly 355-thousand animals and of close to 40,000 tonnes of cereals loss, 137 tonnes perished in Unity state due to flooding last year, not to mention the opportunity to plant crops that was missed due to displacement. 

“The situation in seven counties of Unity state is dire,” says John Juan Bum the Executive Director of Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) in Unity state. “Unless the humanitarian community, together with the government, redouble their efforts the future is bleak.”

Deploying excavators, bulldozers, generators and engineers, WFP is working alongside community members to make the repairs under the supervision of the state Ministry of Roads and Bridges.

“By restoring this road, we are bringing Unity State back to life,”  said WFP engineer Elijah Chol Ayiik, who supervises part of the construction work at the site.

Working side by side

This repair project requires collaboration with humanitarian groups across the United Nations and South Sudan.

Before these road repairs could start, humanitarians had to rescue the vital Rubkona airstrip used by the humanitarian community to reach Unity State from becoming submerged like the rest of Bentiu Town. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) embarked on the emergency construction of a massive dyke around the Rubkona airstrip.

Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) rehabilitated all washouts along many access roads within Rubkona and Bentiu Town, enabling uprooted families to return to their areas of

“The only way to manage the awesome destruction the floods are causing across the Greater Upper Nile states is to combine our efforts, pitching-in together,” says Matthew Hollingworth, WFP Country Director in South Sudan. “That’s exactly what the UN agencies, the NGO partners and the local authorities are demonstrating in Bentiu.”

While tremendous challenges remain ahead as vast swathes of land remain water-logged and many remain displaced, salvaging the access routes and roads of Unity State offers a ray of hope as many look forward to regaining a modicum of normalcy back in their lives.

“Prices of commodities will reduce, and I will resume my business of selling food in the market” says 35 years old Tereza Charngeer, resident of Bentiu. “The road rehabilitation work is exciting to me and other residents.”

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