Articles and Analysies
Giving birth in Sudan BY TINA SUSMAN
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May 21, 2006 - 2:09:00 AM

Giving birth in Sudan

Newsday Staff Writer

May 21, 2006

For three months, in the late stages of pregnancy, Debeza Yar walked on bare feet through southern Sudan, heading east from Western Equatoria province. Her destination was Bor, her hometown on the White Nile River, which civil war had emptied years earlier.

But Juba, some 150 miles south of Bor, was as far as she got, and shortly after arriving, Yar gave birth on the sandy ground under a crudely built thatched-roof shelter. Then, Yar named her newborn girl Lologo, after the desolate, wind-blown camp that had become their home.

If all had gone according to the plans carefully crafted by international organizations overseeing the return of displaced southerners to their homes, Yar would have given birth in Bor, and she no doubt would have named her baby something other than Lologo. But nothing goes according to plan in southern Sudan, a land reduced to a nearly medieval state by decades of neglect and warfare.

In an area more than seven times the size of New York State, the United Nations estimates there are fewer than 10 miles of paved road. The few major unpaved arteries are in serious disrepair and many, including the one from Juba to Bor, are pocked with land mines.

So the UN organized a river barge to ship 400 people at a time to Bor, a two-day trip. It was a slow but promising start to the post-war migration of more than 4 million Sudanese scattered across the country and the continent as a result of Sudan's 21-year north-south war, which ended in January 2005.

But after just two barge trips had carried about 800 people home, people in Juba and Lologo began falling ill. They vomited and suffered severe diarrhea. Some died. Medical officials declared a cholera outbreak and, in mid-February, barge trips were suspended to avoid spreading the disease.

Anywhere else, this might have been a minor setback. Here, it was a reminder of what lies ahead as southern Sudan begins the staggering task of building itself into a viable nation. It's a mission that cannot succeed unless people like Yar restore their abandoned towns to life, but it is easily derailed by everything from rain, which turns the region's dirt roads into impassable sludge, to land mines.

For most people at Lologo -- members of the cattle-raising Dinka tribe indigenous to Bor -- the return would mark the end of years on the run dating back to 1992, when the war drove them out. Most took their prized, long-horned cattle and fled southwest, to Western Equatoria state.

After the north-south peace accord was signed, they began hiking back to Bor. Those not strong enough to make the entire walk -- many children, the elderly and pregnant women -- ended up at Lologo, waiting for the boat.

"It was very far indeed," said Gabriel Ayuen Deng, Lologo's camp leader, describing the 180-mile walk. "When you have shoes like me, you're OK," he added, looking at his tan sneakers. "But the rest were having problems."

The barge finally was cleared to resume traveling last month, none too soon for Lologo's 4,000 residents. Their impatience to move on had become obvious, even if it was to go somewhere they barely remembered. "We remember the name. We remember the goodness," Deng said, when asked his most vivid memories of Bor.

Even as Lologo was emptying, thousands more Bor-bound people were at other way stations in the region, and it appeared they would face far longer delays. Once the rains came this month, attempts to move them bogged down, explained Louis Hoffmann of the International Organization for Migration, a UN agency.

Worse, he said, the downpours had raised fears of more water-borne diseases, such as cholera. "Sanitation is so bad and the rains are coming, so the suspicion is it could creep up again," Hoffmann said.

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