Last night I was talking with the protection coordinator from an NGO in the country. I was picking her brain about the Abyei situation and during the course of our conversation we tried to come up with an analogy to explain to people back home how far away this situation is from our location right now. I suggested my analogy of the distance driving from Chicago to California. She responded that didn’t go far enough because going from Chicago to California:
a) Does not involve a rainy season making nearly all direct roads impassable (keep in mind that 98% of roads in this country are not well maintained dirt roads, and rain + dirt = lots of mud = not passable for even Land Rovers). Keep in mind that in good weather it takes about 2 hours to go 50kms.
b) Does not involve enough desert, snakes, and mosquitoes.
c) Has an unfair advantage that if you broke down somewhere, there would probably be
- A mechanic close by to fix what ails you
- If all else fails, an airplane or helicopter that could fly you from Chicago to California.
So if you consider all that, we decided a more appropriate analogy is that it’s more like walking across Arizona, on foot, but it rains 13 inches every night.
That being said, the situation there is not to be made light of — I don’t mean that at all. There’s definitely a serious security issue and thousands of people have fled their homes. A friend of mine here knows an American doctor who called him today. He asked my friend to send credit to his phone, since he’d been walking for 2 days after evacuating and just got in network range, but had no money or way to add credit.
There’s also a huge worry that the country will run out of petrol. Already several states are running out of petrol, and some humanitarian organizations have begun offering to transport it via plane, free of charge. Only problem is now, even in Juba, people are having problems getting fuel, and prices are rising steeply.
Aweil East and Twic counties (not to be confused with Twic East, which is a county in a whole separate state) are beginning to see IDPs walking in from the north.
So like I said, very serious situation, and how it continues to unfold will mean a lot to the country’s future (and to how Bashir and the north are treated in the future by foreign players), but right now it’s a very removed concept to me. Like walking across Arizona.