(27th May, 2013) - The International Day of UN Peacekeepers – 29th May -- is a day to pay tribute to all men and women serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations in different parts of the world.
The day acknowledges the high level of professionalism, dedication and courage of the UN peacekeepers, and honors the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.
This year the theme for the Day is “UN Peacekeeping: Adapting to New Challenges”.
The UN General Assembly in 2002 designated 29 May as Peacekeeper's Day as it was the date in 1948 the first United Nations peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), began operations in Palestine.
“To meet emerging threats and rise to new challenges, United Nations peacekeeping is adapting its policies to better fulfill its mandate to bring lasting peace to war-torn countries,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement about the Day from New York.
Ban said that although the advances are welcome, it must be acknowledged that peacekeeping will always carry risks.
“Unidentified assailants have recently ambushed and killed peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and South Sudan, while blue helmets serving in the Middle East have been detained,” he said.
“111 peacekeeping personnel died last year, and more than 3,100 have lost their lives during the UN’s 65-year history of peacekeeping. We salute their bravery and mourn their passing.”
This year’s event marks the fifth year in a row the United Nations will honor more than 100 blue helmets who lost their lives the previous year while serving the cause of peace.
“This somber milestone is a stark reminder of the risks incurred by individuals who put their lives on the line when they deploy to United Nations missions around the world,” according to the statement.
It said that this year’s commemorative ceremonies come at a time when the services of United Nations peacekeepers continue to be in great demand.
“There are nearly 80,000 military personnel, 12,500 police officers and 17,000 international civilian and national staff serving in 15 peacekeeping operations on four continents.”
South Sudan is celebrating the Day with a focus on the theme of “Diversity: Your strength, your nation.”
Was there fraud? Or were they safe transactions?
Justice Minister John Luk Jok has named a seven member committee to investigate the controversial grain deals in which the government lost 6.27 b South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) four years ago.
But a World Bank team -- known as the Stolen Asset Recovery (STAR) -- examined 823 companies and established that the lost funds stood at 3.6b SSP, the minister said.
The government set out to hire companies to supply maize and dura as part of a grain reserve policy in 2008. The essence of the policy was to stock the grains to later be sold to the citizens at a subsidized prize in hunger periods.
In what became known as the Dura Saga, some companies allegedly received payments for consignments they did not deliver. Others that had delivered the gains weren’t paid, thus bungling the scheme.
The seven-member team is headed by Prosecutor General Filberto Mayuot Mareng, with Consul General Dr. Moa Moti, Senior Consul Biong, Auditor General Chamber’s Jok Bir and senior police officer from the Ministry of Interior Akur Lia, among others, as members.
(6th April 2013) - Every morning, Ayak Kon, walks over three kilometers to the nearest borehole, spends an hour in line to fill up her jerrycan, and walks the same path back home.
“I came since 11 am, I have spent 1 hour here waiting for water. This borehole is not enough for us here in this area,” Ayak said.
“The water is very little for us. We are very many in this area. They (government) should bring for us more boreholes,” she said.
Ayak, lives in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State.
She is one of the hundreds of women who make the daily three kilometers journey to the borehole several times to fetch water for her daily chores.
(12th March 2013) - In some straggly neem trees near Bentiu town, birds weaver around. They build their nests and sing their songs during the day before settling to quite at dusk.
But next to this clone of trees is a makeshift structure built of iron sheets and surrounded by a panel fence only one meter high.
It is the Bentiu Central Prision, the biggest prison in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity State.
The facility houses 187 inmates, seven of whom are women. It has three cells, one of which is exclusively for the females, meaning the men’s cells are overcrowded.
(20th February, 2013) - “Feeding a child at school is such a simple thing – but it works miracles,” American actress Drew Barrymore, named Ambassador Against Hunger for the World Food Program in May 2007, once said.
“Hungry people cannot be good at learning or producing anything, except perhaps violence,” said fellow actress and singer, Pearl Bailey.
The remarks were made some time ago, but still are pivotal in South Sudan's present situation.
With the assistance from the WFP, South Sudan could be able to work “miracles” through the introduction of a school feeding program.
School feeding not only fills stomachs, but has a proven track record of boosting enrollment, attendance and academic performance (Drew Barrymore).
As hunger grips various parts of the country, with people starving to death in some cases, the WFP has donated $25 million (US) for this year’s school feeding program.
This program targets about 400,000 pupils in food insecure areas: Eastern Equatoria, Northern and Western Bhar al-Ghazal, Unity, Warrap and Upper Nile states.
“It is not covering every school in the country because we have 3700 schools in the country. We have 1.8 million children in primary and we have 44,000 children in secondary, according to the statistics of 2011,” said Deng Deng Hoc, the undersecretary in the ministry of General Education and Instruction.
“But we are only targeting about 400,000. So it is for everybody who is in food insecure areas,” he said.
The introduction of this program in primary and secondary schools – although not to all schools in the country - may have solved one problem.
The other issue is that hunger is also a problem in teachers training colleges.
“We are also hoping to help the government to contribute to providing meals in the teachers’ training colleges,” said Chris Nikoi, the WFP country director for South Sudan.
According to 2008 population and household census, 73 percent of South Sudanese are illiterate.
The illiteracy rate is worse among women.
“If you look at the situation of women, 88 percent is illiterate. So the literacy rate for woman is only 12 percent. The illiteracy rate for men is 76 percent. So only 24 percent of men can read and write,” Deng said.
This staggering data captures the dire need for improved education services in South Sudan, and the base of which is primary and secondary.
But one more thing makes the picture even grimmer: Only less than half of the children in South Sudan go to school.
Why are children not going to school?
“One of the issues preventing them from going to school is poverty. Another issue is lack of sufficient number of schools in the country,” Deng said.
However, with the introduction of the feeding program, enrolment rates may shoot up in those areas where hunger made it unconducive for children to go to school. As Nikoi puts it, the school feeding program has been successful in other countries that have been tackling such issues, and he believes it can help South Sudan too.
“My organization, the WFP, has worked with many countries, who today run their own national school feeding program without involving the support of WFP in any material way,” Nikoi said.
“Some of the most popular and well-known examples – excellent examples – are Brazil, Chile who, after 37 years of working with them now run their own programs,” he said.
Poverty is rampant in Africa, with South Sudan, barely less than two years old since independence from Sudan, still among countries at the bottom of the continent’s ranking.
“Even on our continent of Africa, there are incredible such stories, and I will mention a few: the island of Cape Verde in 2010 graduated from a school feeding program jointly with the WFP, completely supported by that country,” Nikoi said.
“This is a country of half a million people who at independence had very staggering social statistics in terms of malnutrition, literacy rate etc, probably even more staggering than South Sudan. And by 2010 are running their own school meal program,” he added.
However, South Sudan might get inspired even more to learn from established African countries.
“Ghana is another one that has managed now to move to what they call a home-grown school meal program,” Nikoi said.
So for South Sudan, until when, will this program depend entirely on donations?
Nikoi said school-gardening has been introduced to lead to a gradual takeover of the program by South Sudanese.
“This year, we want that the program of school gardening is really scaled up. If not reaching all 1,250 schools, at least several hundreds get school gardens,” said Nikoi.