03-Sep-2012 -- Mark and I have been working in South Sudan for six months as UNHCR experts in the fields of site planning and water and sanitation respectively. We were based at the Jaman refugee camp, which is 31 km ENE of the Confluence and had been looking for an opportunity to visit this Confluence for some time.
Our opportunity came when we needed to investigate potential new sites for relocating refugees later this year. Local information had it that an area to the south of Banketta had good ground water and was not as subject to flooding as the current Jaman site. Mindful of the security situation we researched the general location, obtained the appropriate clearances, and organised the requisite two vehicle convoy.
The area is in the centre of a very significant oil field which has been closed down during the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. All of the infrastructure is still present in a mothballed state and will presumably be reactivated when satisfactory arrangements are reached between the two countries. In the meantime, the area is used for subsistence agriculture with cattle grazing being the main economic activity along with some cropping. The cattle are grazed on an open range system and are highly valued, as to get a maiden's hand in marriage, her suitor has to find a minimum of 25 head of cattle to give to the bride’s father before the marriage can take place. Because of this, cattle raiding is common in these areas.
At the moment the main economic driver in the area is the presence of various UN agencies and NGOs which are carrying out humanitarian activities with the large numbers of refugees coming into the area from Sudan. Much of the work of these agencies is supplying around 90,000 refugees with water. The Picture shows a bore and distribution system at Banketta. In the earlier part of this year this bore has been an important source of water to the Jaman camps, but because of the trucking distance, the bore has now been replaced with closer and more reliable sources.
We were able to drive to within approximately 1.5 km of the site after which we walked across the floodplain. Although the recent rains were sufficient to make the ground very wet underfoot, we were fortunate in that this year there had not been the normal amount of rain. If this had been the case, the water could have been up to 50 cm deep and we would have required a boat. As it was we had water above our ankles at many points and the grass was well above our heads most of the time.
The look on Mark’s face is a good indication on how we felt when we achieved our goal.