South Sudan, the world's newest country, has some of the worst development indicators on the planet, a senior United Nations official said today, pledging the Organization's assistance to help the nation achieve its main goals in the aftermath of independence.
Lise Grande, the UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, told an international meeting in Geneva that the UN Country Team will align with the new Government's priorities in four areas: humanitarian action, stabilization and protection, social progress and justice, and State take-off and accountability.
Ms. Grande told the meeting, organized by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), that the South Sudanese population of an estimated 9 million people is overwhelmingly young, rural, poor and uneducated.
Only about four per cent of arable land in South Sudan - whose territory is close to that of France, Afghanistan or Kenya - is cultivated and just one per cent of households have a bank account, she said.
Half the population does not have access to safe drinking water and it is estimated that only one person in five uses a health-care facility in their lifetime, according to Ms. Grande, who noted also that fewer than 10 per cent of children finish primary school.
"A 15-year-old girl living in South Sudan has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than completing school," she said.
But Ms. Grande noted that South Sudan has also made substantial progress since 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ending the long-running north-south civil war in Sudan.
Multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections were held last year for the first time, a police service, a prison service and a judiciary have been established and more than 6,000 kilometres of road have been upgraded, linking key cities and towns.
She added that primary school enrolment has quadrupled, infection rates from Guinea worm have slumped by more than 90 per cent and the country is now considered polio free.
Ms. Grande stressed that the UN would aim to help the country meet the needs of returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), extend State authority into insecure areas, assist in boosting living conditions, fight impunity, and ensure governments are accountable and transparent.
General Gier Chuang Aluong, South Sudan's Interior Minister, outlined the areas in which his Government is trying to focus its efforts, including building a national police service, ensuring transparent democracy and reintegrating former combatants into regular society.
"Much needs to be accomplished to move from relief to development so that every citizen in South Sudan can live in peace and harmony after decades of war," he said.
South Sudan became an independent State on 9 July, following a UN-backed referendum in January that was held as part of the CPA. Last week the country became the 193rd Member State of the UN.