Opening roads unites communities, facilitates humanitarian response, and builds bridges for sustainable development. Nowhere does this resonate more than in South Sudan’s Jonglei State and Greater Pibor Administrative area, where after half a year’s hard work, the 124 km Main Supply Route joining the key towns of Pibor & Akobo was reopened in March 2022.
The Pibor-Akobo road runs close to the Ethiopian border and has long been an important migration and trade route, but in 2014 was effectively abandoned due to conflict. As a first step to giving life back to this artery, UNMAS as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), acted as a survey and clearance pathfinder to ensure that road construction could follow-on free from the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war.
The impending wet season made this project a race against time, and pressed home the need to keep momentum before areas became impassable. Unprecedented flooding in recent years meant that even in the ‘dry’ season the use of specialized all-terrain vehicles was required to locate many parts of the old road, often in remote overgrown areas referred to by communities as “no man’s land”, testing team resourcefulness in securing lifelines such as fuel, water, and communications.
The many challenges on the ground - swamp, mud, heat, overgrowth, insecurity, equipment breakages, and myriad logistical hurdles - were surmounted through the UNMAS team working hand in hand with UNMISS Military Engineering Company of Republic of Korea (ROK HMEC). Noting the commitment of this partnership, Colonel Sah Roh, Commanding Officer of ROK HMEC, said “We deeply appreciate the fact that we worked together for this historical moment. If UNMAS had not cleared the road for us, I believe the Pibor-Akobo MSR Operation would have been impossible.”
In his address on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on 29 May 2022, Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), Mr. Nicholas Haysom, emphasized the importance of such works in his remarks; “Our military engineering contingents have built or repaired hundreds of kilometres of road, as well as dykes across the country. This is vital to enable communities to connect easily for peace building, boost trade and economic growth, facilitate the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, as well as mitigate the effects of the floods.”
The successful reopening of the Pibor-Akobo corridor sits at the very heart of UNMISS’ ‘Triple Nexus’ approach which seeks to link Peace, Humanitarian and Development efforts in a way that best meets the needs of the girls, boys, women, and men across South Sudan.
Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General/Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator (DSRSG/RC/HC) Sara Beysolow Nyanti commented: “It is not a choice of humanitarian versus peacebuilding versus development action; but rather, it is a matter of how we sequence all three of those actions to ensure that protection of civilians is at the center of all that we do. Demining is a critical part of that because we cannot move on any front if mine action is not the starting point.”