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Southern Sudan referendum in Juba
Sudan referendum: Separation supporters in Juba, Southern Sudan
Sudan referendum: Separation supporters in Juba, Southern Sudan

A Cambridge aid worker has started an online diary to log progress in the Southern Sudan referendum.

Sara Lukey-Smith works for World Vision and is based in the city of Juba.

Voting in the week-long independence referendum began on 9 January 2011 and will determine whether the north and south should become separate countries.

Ms Lukey-Smith said: "The large numbers returning to their places of origin is straining host communities who already face shortages of food and shelter."

Below are extracts from Sara's blog.

Kuajok, Southern Sudan: Friday 14 January 2011

My name is Sara Lukey-Smith and I have been in Juba working for World Vision for four months now. I'm here at a historic phase - I may witness the creation of a new country right before my very eyes.

I've spent the last couple of days in Kuajok town, in the north of Southern Sudan. While Kuajok is the capital of Warrap state, it's not what you'd probably envisage as a capital.

Sara Lukey-Smith, World Vision
Aid worker Sara Lukey-Smith follows the referendum process in Sudan

Like Juba, the roads are wide, dusty and bumpy and the tukuls scattered. But unlike Juba it's had little outside investment; it's remote, reaching Kuajok entails a one-and-a-half hour flight and a one-and-a-half hour drive.

Kuajok is experiencing an influx of people returning to the south. To date over 13,000 have arrived in the town, which is equivalent to a third of the existing population.

The 11 transit camps dotted around are now full, so the most recent returnees have settled on grassland on the outskirts of Kuajok, which has been set aside for them, but is yet to be divided up and portioned out.

While some families have started to construct temporary homes, others are waiting and in the meantime are sheltering under the scattering of trees.

Land is not an issue in Southern Sudan - there's plenty of it. But surveying and allocating this land and going through the correct legal processes is a timely procedure (as it is anywhere in the world).

In the meantime, World Vision is distributing food and non-food items (shelter, blankets, soap, etc) to those that need it, and has established a health clinic where the children are being vaccinated. A recent measles outbreak now seems to have been brought under control.

I spoke to a man called Benjamin, who'd returned the week before with his wife and five children.

He'd made the journey because he hadn't been back for years and wanted to visit his parents' graves.

He's one of those who have started to construct houses. Fairly sturdy-looking tree branches formed the frame and material had been stretched across to create walls, but the roof was yet to be added.

A cooking stove, a bed, and a pile of other belongings lay out front.

Benjamin is a general medical technician, and while his children looked on he carefully produced a box storing his numerous certificates detailing his various qualifications.

Benjamin's eager to complete his house, start cultivating the land he's due to be allocated, and find work as a medical professional.

Harnessing the skills of such returnees will be essential not only to ensure that these people are able to successfully integrate, but to help Southern Sudan move forward whatever the results of the referendum.

Juba, Southern Sudan: Tuesday 11 January 2011

Juba's roads were quieter than they had been in days.

Gone were the processing vehicles with their loud music and horns; instead it was time for people to get down to the serious business of voting.

Many got up early to cast their vote, dressed in their Sunday best.

We drove around the town to witness this historic event.

Queues of people snaked around compounds and down streets to take part in this well-ordered process: Checking off against the registration list; having their registration card cut; casting their vote with a thumb print to register either unity or separation; placing their vote in the ballot box and, finally, having their finger dyed with indelible ink.

'Free, fair and peaceful'

On the sidelines electoral observers from various national and international missions congregated, as well as the press.

You might have seen George Clooney, John Kerry or Kofi Annan in the media coverage - all three were in town to witness this event and advocate for a free, fair and peaceful referendum.

That's the city of Juba. Away from the cameras, voting for many will likely entail a lengthy journey to the polling centre on foot or by bike.

The overwhelming majority of the population of Southern Sudan is rural, with just over eight million people living in a huge region.

Distances are vast and infrastructure is sparse. The 50 or so kilometres of surfaced road in Southern Sudan are concentrated in Juba. People are used to travelling considerable distances - whether to fetch water, seek medical help or attend school.

This remoteness poses a considerable challenge to organisations working in Southern Sudan and means that operational costs are some of the highest in the world.

Nevertheless, World Vision has been here for over two decades and now works with communities in seven out of the 10 states.

Whatever the result of the referendum, long after the cameras have moved on, the region will need continued international support to ensure that these rural communities can access basic services such as healthcare and education, so that deaths from preventable illnesses are tackled, children receive quality education and Southern Sudan can develop peacefully.

World Vision is a UK-based Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.

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• I would likes to thank God for giving us the new country.
Iam, Maiwut

• The Principles of Social Investment (PSI) now have a stronger mandate than early last year. What is there on site to show that slack is not goimg to be the long-term end result? How can equitable, environmentally friendly oil trade be shared in Sudan North-South today?
Genevieve Odongo, Katherine N.T. Australia

• This is actually a God-sent mission to the people of Sudan. God has seen women, children suffering and used you to deliver them. God bless you. Keep updating us.
David Kisiang'ani

• Like Sara says it is actually going to be a country in the making, and to experience that must be historic. The sad thing it is going to be one of the most underdeveloped in the world, and maybe there needs to be a lot of work done, to get it out of its deprivation. The question of who was to blame seems now totally irrelevant. Is it the north, or the oil-rich Arab countries which stood by, or is it the dictates of the World Bank and maybe international community... A new chapter is being opened regardless of the future consequences. It seems one more state wouldn't much matter to world geography but the real challenge will surely lie in improving the lot of the people and going beyond political ideologies, interests and outside linkages.
Marwan Asmar, Amman, Jordan

• If this referendum ends up with two countries at peace someone in Sudan should get the Nobel Peace Prize. However, seeing there is some border trouble at this early stage, if the people of the south think they'll get a peaceful ride (I hope so), but I'm an Africa sceptic when it comes to fairness and justice. They look like fantastic people. And I remember seeing aerial shots of the most neat and beautifully vegetated desert villages which were for no reason burned to the ground.
Jacquie Butterfield, Sydney, Australia

• Keep up Sara, we are behind you. Please update us.
Eric, Eldoret, Kenya

• I am very happy. I am sure it will change Sudan. [Edited comment]
Ashenafi, Mekelle, Ethiopia




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