Monday, May 17, 2010

JUBA, Sudan | Some aid workers live in shipping containers in this stifling hot city, while residents on the outskirts dwell in mud huts. Trash fills the streets — most of which are unpaved — and fresh produce is a luxury.

In eight months, Juba will probably become the capital of the world’s newest country, and one of its poorest and least educated.

Most observers expect that voters in southern Sudan will vote for independence in a referendum to be held in January, but their seat of government, landlocked deep inside Africa, will start off with little going for it.

“There are no good hospitals, no proper schools, because most of the teachers are facing problems with their salaries,” said Kur Lual Kur, one of only a handful of lawyers in Juba.

Like much of Sudan, Juba is hot and dusty. It is nothing like Khartoum, Sudan’s modern capital, a large city with high-rise buildings.

A year ago, there was only a mile or two of pavement in all of Juba, and even now all but its central streets are rough dirt roads.

The antiquated airport is so small that crowds struggle to squeeze out the door. A new terminal is being built but has been a work in progress for years.

Many rural residents live in mud huts with thatch-grass roofs. International aid workers who don’t live in shipping containers cram into small houses that rent for thousands of dollars a month.

With the influx of aid money, a handful of Western-style restaurants have opened up, though a pizza and beer may cost $25.

Many years of war and poverty have kept southern Sudan in a decrepit state. The United Nations estimates that more than 90 percent of people in southern Sudan live on less than $1 a day. The literacy rate is 15 percent. Life expectancy is 42 years.

Two decades of war between the predominantly Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the Christian-animist south killed at least 2 million people before a 2005 peace agreement was reached. The conflict is separate from the fighting to the west in Darfur, which has claimed an estimated 300,000 lives and displaced some 2.7 million people since 2003.

Salva Kiir, the south’s president, said during his April election campaign to remain as the south’s regional leader that southerners’ lives have improved dramatically since the accord.

The government says 8,000 new business have been created since 2005, including 200 new hotels, six water bottling plants and five mobile telephone companies.

“No amount of intimidations can drag us back to war,” Mr. Kiir said.

But a new report from the International Crisis Group warned that if either side reneges on the agreement to hold a referendum, “a return to conflict is likely and would undoubtedly affect the region and draw in some of its militaries.”

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