Some 2,000 residents of the township of Akoka are jubilant: Indian peacekeepers serving the United Nations Mission in South Sudan have rebuilt the bridge which connects them with the state capital Malakal.
The 300-metre-long stretch of road collapsed in June last year, due to heavy rains at the onset of the wet season, leaving the communities of Akoka in the Central Upper Nile area virtually stranded.
Peacekeepers from the 62 Indian Horizontal Mechanical Engineering Company took on the demanding task of rebuilding the vital bridge, and they faced considerable difficulties.
“The major challenge was reconstructing the bridge through a submerged area with a depth of up to 4 metres in some places. With little time and resources at hand, we had to make a crossing as fast as possible to make this road accessible and recommence our repair work of the supply road towards Melut. We are currently about 120 kilometres from Melut,” explains Lieutenant Colonel Nishkam Puri, the officer in charge of the Indian Engineering Company.
Rusty shells of cars and trucks that attempted to make the dangerous crossing through the swamp are testaments to the suffering and losses inflicted by the collapsed Akoka Bridge. Residents continued to wade in the neck-deep water, carrying their goods over their heads to make the risky yet necessary expedition to access basic commodities and services. The Akoka community depends largely on fishery for their livelihoods, selling their fish to markets as far off as Sudan.
“We are happy because UNMISS has done the work well. We have really suffered here going through the water with our goods, and even our animals. Now, with the road, we can carry even heavy things without walking inside the water. We are all very happy here in Akoka,” says local resident Samuel James Ayot.
The UN peacekeepers, in collaboration with the county government, worked tirelessly to ensure that access to the village was recreated in record time. It took just 10 days to make the route passable for not only civilians but also humanitarian aid workers who have not been able to deliver goods and services to the area and beyond.
The Akoka Bridge lies between Malakal and Melut on a major service road that also reaches Bunj and Renk. The importance of its rehabilitation cannot be overstated, as it will enable UNMISS to increase road patrols and outreach activities in the region.
Isaac Mwesigye, field engineer at the UNMISS Upper Nile base, elaborated on the challenges faced by the team on the ground, and on the necessity to overcome them.
“We have been transporting white soil from Malakal, which is 60 kilometres away, to complete the work. This is an emergency intervention to ensure that during the dry season UNMISS, the government and the people in the area can use this route. The second phase will be to put appropriate structures and marram in place so that the road can survive the next rainy season.”
The Indian peacekeeping engineers commenced the repair of the 205-kilometres-long road from Malakal to Melut in November last year. This major service road has been out of use since the onset of the rainy season last May. Repair and rehabilitation of this road will give a great impetus to trade and business between these two important towns in the Upper Nile area.
-UN Mission In South Sudan