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July 5, 2011

Honeymooners…and a Million Problems

PhotoVocational training in Darfur

The city of Kassala is known as the honeymoon center of Sudan. Couples come to drink the famous mountain spring water for luck and health and eat the bountiful fruits which grow along a narrow green strip of the Atbara River running through an otherwise harsh desert environment.

Downtown there is a busy shopping thoroughfare known by locals as The One Million Stupid Street because of the many traffic and pedestrian accidents which occur there and it is a reputation for crisis rather than the picture of happy honeymooners which infuses the region.

The Republic of Sudan, the northern section of what was formerly Africa’s largest state until its division into two new countries this month, is a country of sharp contrast -- rich in history, culture and potential, but also facing those ‘one million problems’ –in the Kassala region on its eastern borders stretching to Darfur in the far west.

Kassala state and the city of the same name is one of the poorest areas in the Republic, scarred by war, harsh landscapes battered alternatively by drought and flood, where 91% of households do not have enough food, only 39% have access to safe water and the maternal mortality rate has risen to 1,414 per 100,000 births compared with 500 prewar.

The region’s problems are exacerbated by the presence of some 67,000 refugees from neighboring Eritrea, some of whom have been there for decades. Hundreds more continue to arrive weekly.

Major Projects

PhotoTraining new auto mechanics in Sudan

In line with its overall policy of helping vulnerable people, particularly in war affected areas and specific groups such as displaced persons and former combatants, achieve their needs in basic areas such as health, water, education, food and infrastructure, JICA is involved in major projects in the Kassala region, Darfur and other vital regions.

A team of 23 Japanese experts is conducting one of the agency’s most ambitious technical cooperation projects in Kassala, a $17 million, three-year fully integrated program which began in early 2011 covering five areas: planning, water supply, agriculture, health and vocational training.

Adopting an overall integrated approach will result in increased synergy, efficiency and effectiveness.

In practical terms the project translates into helping to train village midwives; teaching administrators modern accounting procedures to help reduce devastating loss in the collection of water revenues; boosting agriculture; improving both the skills of administrators and teachers and providing vocational training for new generations of auto mechanics, electricians and other needed skills.

JICA provides basic equipment and vehicles whenever necessary, has rehabilitated Kassala town’s water supply facility and will help construct a second system to eventually reach an additional 80,000 people with running water.

Darfur Devastated

PhotoMidwife training in Darfur

Darfur has also been devastated since 2003 by an ongoing civil conflict, some 200,000 persons having been killed and as many as two million displaced.

That conflict was partly the result of a struggle for scarce water and land sources—the background to many other wars across the globe—and JICA’s projects are designed to immediately help the most needy at the grassroots level, reduce inequality and, more long-term, to address the problems which caused war in the first place.

These principles are also being applied in the so-called Three Protocol Areas, regions which suffered because of their proximity to north-south conflict areas.

Projects concentrate on such unglamorous bread-and-butter areas as training hundreds of officials, administrators and midwives—sometimes locally, on other occasions in Japan or third countries--to strengthening the structures which govern every-day life.

Access to Water

Access to water is a perennial challenge and equipment has been provided, boreholes sunk and water experts trained.

Emphasis continues to be placed in all regions, including the capital, Khartoum, on the importance of both improving the skills of teachers—training the trainers—and turning out the plumbers, carpenters and electricians who keep the economy moving.

Going forward, Sudanese customs officers are being trained in Kenya, waste management techniques applied in the capital and, recognizing the importance of improving food production, there are plans to promote rice production, rehabilitate irrigation facilities in one area and upgrade food production infrastructure.


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