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South Sudan’s Malakal begins rising from the ashes of ruin

Malakal town. Photo by The New Humanitarian

By Simon Deng

After conflict struck South Sudan in 2013, the town of Malakal in Upper Nile State became the epicentre of a show of military supremacy.

Fierce battle between government forces and rebels for control of the town which changed hands several times led to the total devastation of the town, leading to deaths, destruction of livelihoods and infrastructures of a once proud hub in South Sudan.

By 2015, it was a heap of ruin and not even dogs dared wander the neighbourhoods.

Seven years later, while the hallmarks of war are still evident, Malakal is beginning to put the crisis behind.

The main government health facility, Malakal Teaching Hospital is open to patients, the Bank of South Sudan has refurnished its regional headquarters and government institutions, including the police, national security and public services are operational.

Upper Nile University buildings have also got a facelift.

“Malakal town is slowly sliding back to normalcy after years of skirmishes,” Sunday Chol, a midwife at Malakal Teaching Hospital told Juba Echo from the town on March 9.

Chol sought refuge refuge in Malakal in 2013 when his village of Atar in Jonglei State was caught up in war.

But Malakal proved a tough test to her security, and yet she passed through.

The conflict left 400,000 people dead and displaced four million others, slashed crude output and led to economic chaos in South Sudan.

The United Nations mission base in Malakal was home to hundreds of thousands of people, living in squalid conditions while the town nearby was manned by armed groups, brutally deadly.

Cocktailing the crisis were grave tribal tensions, especially between the Shilluk and the Padang Dinka over a strip of land located on the eastern bank of the Nile River.

A return to peace designed by a pact in 2018 cleared the path for a return home.

Chol is happy to see many returnees in Malakal.

Women preparing a meal in Malakal. Photo by The New Humanitarian

“People can now move out of the PoCs (Protection of Civilian sites) to work in town,” Chol said.

“During the conflict people moved only between POC and the Humanitarian Hub but now you can move to town, you can sleep in your house in town or sleep in hotels, the security situation has improved, people are no long living in fear of attacks,” she said.

Echoing Chol, John Aban, a resident of Malakal town said functioning government institutions crown the return of peace in Malakal.

“The security institutions are functional, the police, the army and the national security are on guard so when it comes to security concern, there is no fear,” Aban told Juba Echo.

“If you move around town now, you will find some infrastructures in town are renovated, for example the Bank of South Sudan, the Upper Nile state secretariat and the Health ministry cold chain are some of the key infrastructures in place you can see meeting standard of a town,” he said.

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