Rural communities in South Sudan say a road-building project sponsored by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is transforming their lives by making travel faster and cheaper, and by increasing their access to markets and social services.
WFP launched the feeder roads project in March 2011 with the aim of constructing 500 kilometres of roads linking remote rural areas. Two roads of those are now under construction in the state of Lakes, with initial funding from the Sudan Recovery Fund and the Government of Norway.
Isaac Chol Muker, who has been a fishmonger for 15 years in the village of Pachon, says the construction of the 65-kilometer road connecting the Rumbek East and Rumbek Centre counties has proved useful for his business.
“I used to spend 5 days on bicycle to transport fish from Lake Nubor to Pachon but now I can move a larger volume of dried fish by bicycle in only an 8-hour round-trip, ’’ he says.
Muker plans to expand his business to new markets in the neighbouring Unity state as WFP extends the road by another 55 kilometres to connect Amok-Piny in Rumbek East County to Panyijar in Unity state.
Fishing is a key income-generating activity in this part of South Sudan. The roads not only take fishermen to new markets but also bring in traders, turning villages into business centres. The construction of the 55-kilometre stretch that connects the villages of Aluakluak and Akouc Cok in Tirol West County has enabled more traders from surrounding towns to buy fish from Lake Nubor, fishermen said.
The WFP roads rehabilitation programme in South Sudan was initiated to enable the agency to shift its own emergency food assistance, but also to create a road network that would support economic development. Between 2004 and 2011, WFP repaired 2,600 km of roads, linked eight out of the ten key cities and established corridors not only to the north, but also to Uganda and Kenya.
The feeder roads that WFP has now embarked on constructing are a means of stimulating the huge agricultural potential in South Sudan, providing better access to food production areas and markets.
These new roads also have cut the cost of transport by half and improved communities’ access to basic social services including healthcare and schools.
For instance, the authorities at the Amok Piny primary school expect that school enrolment will double.
“We used to walk a long way in a very insecure area (to reach the school) but now our journey is a lot shorter and safer,” said Madit John, a pupil at the Amok-Piny primary school.
The school authorities also expect to recruit more teachers from the population which is re-settling in this area due to improved security and access to social services.
The WFP feeder roads project is also providing nine government officials with on-the-job training in general engineering techniques, while more than 490 South Sudanese have been employed and are learning skills that will serve them and their young nation in the future.
“I was initially employed as a labour based worker…but I have now learned to operate the roller,” said Marial John, recruited for the construction of the road from Aluakluak to Akouk Cok.
Having seen the direct, positive impact of the roads already built, WFP is keen on expanding the road-construction project to other parts of the country.