- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2011

JUBA, South Sudan — Africa’s newest nation is only 3 days old, but it already is facing a humanitarian crisis, with about 1,000 people a day crowding into this dusty capital straining under the population crush.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented acceleration in the number of people returning to the south,” said Giovanni Bosco, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in South Sudan.

“This large number of people has put an additional strain on the limited resources and the limited capacity of public services in the south.”

South Sudan is rich in oil and other natural resources, but it remains one of the poorest nations on Earth, with 90 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day.

The new nation also has some of the worst health statistics. In some areas, only one doctor serves as many as 500,000 people, and more women die in childbirth than anywhere else in the world.

The population is estimated to be 8 million according to a 2008 census, but the government suspects those figures are inaccurate.

Since the end of two decades of civil war between the Arab north and the mostly black African south in 2005, more than 2 million people who fled the fighting have returned to the south.

Betty Achan Ogwaro, a member of the South Sudan Legislative Assembly, said the influx poses a grave risk because of a lack of jobs.

“The sources of livelihood is a problem,” she said. “These people depend on aid, but that aid will not go on forever.”

Barrie Walkley, the senior U.S. diplomat in Juba, added, “It is not the numbers, but the pace at which they are returning that is creating problems.”

Every day, barges brimming with people and their belongings dock at the ramshackle port in this dusty capital of Africa’s newest nation.

The Nile flows south to north, so a journey upriverfrom Khartoum can take as long as three weeks. But the prospect of an arduous voyage of more than 700 miles has not slowed the pace of southerners returning to their homeland.

Many returning south are buoyed by the hope of finding dignity, the one thing they say that eluded them during their years in the north, still officially known as Sudan, where they suffered religious and racial discrimination.

On a recent afternoon, a group newly arrived from the north sat under the mango trees that line the White Nile and watched boats loaded with onions that bounced gently on the river, a tributary of the Nile.

“We gave up jobs and a stable life in the hope of something better. Most of all, we crave respect,” said Atok Deng, who returned with his young family.

Story Continues →