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UN weapons free zone and water project fosters harmony between displaced civilians and local communities in Juba

UN weapons free zone and water project fosters harmony between displaced civilians and local communities in Juba

The eruption of violence in July 2016 forced tens of thousands of South Sudanese civilians to seek sanctuary in sites within and next to the United Nations compound in Juba.

Since that time, tensions have risen between those living in the Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites and nearby villagers as they struggle to access scarce resources, including water, food, and firewood. Both groups have also been targeted by criminals who hid guns and other weapons in thick bushes around the sites, forcing many nearby villagers to abandon their homes.

“Criminals would approach our site, looting and destroying people’s homes. Many of the women and children left because of the insecurity,” said one villager, Ladu Gabriel.

However, two projects led by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), in cooperation with the Government, are fostering a new harmonious relationship between the groups. 

A 200m Weapons Free Zone around the PoC site has been cleared, reducing the risk of violence and improving UNMISS’ ability to patrol and provide security 24 hours a day.  Many villagers were hired to cut the vegetation, giving them a stake in the project and securing their own safety while also contributing to their incomes.

Head of UNMISS, David Shearer, said that, in the month prior to the establishment of the Weapons Free Zone, 48 serious incidents were recorded, including murder, armed robbery, assault, kidnapping and rape. Those incidents have now reduced to approximately four a month – a 90% drop in crime.

“Today we see internally displaced people and members of host communities walking side by side in peace as they collect firewood in the Weapons Free Zone – that is a great thing,” he said.

The second project is the construction of a solar-powered water system to provide clean water for communities living outside the PoC site.

The South Sudanese Minister for the Interior, Michael Chiangjiek, welcomed the project as an example of what can be achieved when the Government, UN, and local communities work together.

“The more we interact, the more we share things, the more we will get solutions for our people,” he said. “You are here to help us so that we can get out of what we are in now but we can also learn from each other.”

David Shearer said the projects reflected UNMISS’ two key priorities – to protect civilians and build durable peace. While they were modest in monetary terms, they would bring tangible benefits for the community.

 One women from the nearby village said she had returned to live there because of the access to clean water.

“If there are schools in future, more of us will come back because it’s not easy to leave your own place and go live in someone else’s place,” she said. “We are really suffering but we still have hope that things will get better.”