If You Care About Peace, Now is the Time to Invest in Southern Sudan

04/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Traveling around Juba on deeply rutted, dusty, red, dirt roads in over 100 degree heat makes one realize the importance of clean drinking water. Though the mighty Nile river runs through southern Sudan, people still live without enough water. Women and girls spend hours a day fetching water from community borehole wells. They line up their yellow plastic jerry cans and buckets in long queues to wait for their turn at the spicket. Then, they carry heavy loads back home balancing the buckets on their heads because their arms are full.

Water and sanitation is one of the new program priorities that BRAC southern Sudan would like to pilot with financial help from BRAC USA. Drilling more borehole wells costs roughly $7,000 each and can serve dozens of households. BRAC runs a massive WASH program in Bangladesh, so they are very experienced when it comes to bringing water to impoverished areas.

I visited all the programs supported by BRAC USA grants including microfinance, health, education and agricultural development. BRAC is now the largest microfinance provider in the country, operating in 7 of 10 States. BRAC serves over 23,000 clients, benefits 138,000 people and about 138 million people worldwide.

Training teachers, teaching children
I went to the BRAC schools for out-of-school children, ages 8 to 11 years old and was impressed with the creative methods used to engage students and teach math and English. Michael, the teacher trainer, was a clear leader who supported his teacher in carrying out lessons. We now have 110 schools serving over 3,000 students, 60% of whom are girls.

I sat in on the last day of a 6-day teacher training program for teachers. Over half of the teachers were extremely dynamic and spoke English with me. Others were more shy about their language skills but welcoming in their native tongue. All were women who lived in the community where they taught, adored their profession and spoke passionately about their students. One woman named Sunday was particularly outspoken. She said that the children "have much to offer their country."

Growing the future
I met with a group of 20 farmers who collectively cultivated a 10 acre plot. With a 6,500 pound investment farmers generated 40,000 pounds, which they split equally. They were eager to continue with BRAC and requested a school for their children.

BRAC's agriculture pilot in southern Sudan has trained almost 3,000 farmers and demonstrated how viable their strategy is.

Getting healthy
I dropped in on a sanitation health forum and talked to a group of women and the BRAC community health staff about the health needs in that area. They spoke about government plans to bulldoze part of their community for a road project and showed me the red X marks for homes to be condemned. The community health volunteer was not present as her brother had just suffered a motorbike accident and she was tending to his care.

Building partnerships
My visit concluded with a dinner where over a dozen partners, potential funders and key government officials joined me.

The BRAC training center has not yet been built because of liquidity problems at the Nile Commercial bank. We are hopeful that this $1.5 million will be released soon, along with other funds trapped in this bank. I was assured that BRAC is a top priority.

BRAC has created a buzz in the community, it seems, for being able to deliver under adverse conditions. The Sudan Recovery Fund just awarded BRAC the responsibility to implement its grant fund of $2.5 million to 70 community-based organizations in all 10 states. BRAC has screened these groups, supported their capacity building and direct implementation of agriculture, education, water and other initiatives.

In a country with 10 million people, BRAC is having an impact in all 10 states. Southern Sudan though, has over 7 times the land of Bangladesh but only a fraction of its 150 million people. The BRAC team faces daily hardships to accomplish the same mission of bringing clean drinking water to the people of Sudan.

The series of elections coming up to address the independence issue should not make people shy away from investing in southern Sudan. As our agriculture officer said from Torit, "We are tired of fighting. Nothing is going to happen in 2011."

Note: Since independence in 1956, factions in Sudan have engaged in a north-south civil war. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement based in the South and the Sudanese government based in the North, was the culmination of years of peace negotiations. The accord ended the civil war and granted southern Sudan autonomy until a referendum, scheduled to be held in 2011. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held before then, in April 2010, in an event that will undoubtedly be significant in the Sudanese peace process.