JUBA, Sudan — A city shaped like a giraffe? A rhino-shaped town? Even one that looks from above like a pineapple? Southern Sudan has unveiled ambitious plans to remake its capital cities in the shapes found on their state flags, and an official says the government is talking with investors to raise the $10 billion the fanciful communities would cost.
The plan in the war-torn region comes ahead of a scheduled January referendum on independence, which most people here believe will lead to the creation of the world's newest country. The south is rich in oil, but poverty and hunger is high throughout the region, which is struggling to recover after a civil war more than two decades long.
The $10 billion concept will take decades to carry out, officials concede, though it may never escape the planning stages. The southern government's own 2010 budget was only $1.9 billion, and the U.N. says more than 90 percent of Southern Sudan's population lives on less than $1 a day.
The plans have evoked bemused smiles – or outright laughter – in Juba, a town that until two years ago barely had any paved roads.
"It doesn't seem like the (Government of Southern Sudan) should be using its resources or staff time when the people of Southern Sudan lack basic services like health care and water," Nora Petty, an aid worker in Juba with the Malaria Consortium.
Government officials concede that a lot of money is needed to finance the project, which includes a plan to transform two state capitals into the shapes of a giraffe and a pineapple.
Juba – the capital of Southern Sudan – is to be reshaped into a compact rhino with two pointy horns. The new area will be called "Rhino City."
Officials said the plan would bring order to the city's chaotic layout.
"Juba is made up of slums," said Jemma Kumba, the minister of housing and physical planning.
Detailed architectural drawings of Rhino City show that Central Equatoria's police headquarters would be situated at the rhino's mouth, an amusement park at the ear, an industrial area along the back and residential housing throughout the four legs.
"It's very innovative. That's our thinking. It's unique. It's the Ministry of Housing thinking you have to be unique to attract the people," said Daniel Wani, undersecretary of Southern Sudan's Ministry of Housing and Physical Planning.
If the animal-shaped towns come to be, they will join other famously shaped cities around the world. Dubai created several palm-shaped residential islands off its coast. In Argentina, planners shaped the town of Ciudad Evita into the form of Eva Peron, an actress and wife of former President Juan Peron who was known as Evita.
Of course, per capita income in the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is located, is around $42,000 a year. In Sudan, it's just $2,300.
And unlike well-developed Dubai, Southern Sudan still lacks basic infrastructure such as roads to connect its state capitals. Outside the southern capital Juba, structures aside from mud huts are rare, and in Juba, services such as electricity and sewage are a luxury.
The Minister of Roads and Transport, Anthony Makana, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he needed up to $6 billion to pave 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) of roads in the south.
Makana said the project would connect all of the southern state capitals, but he noted that funding is a concern, given that the government has not finished paying the contractors who built 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) of red clay and gravel roads since 2005, when the landmark peace accord between the north and south was signed.