South Sudan's Unity State Waits For Oil Money

2082 Views Bentiu, South Sudan

In short
Bentiu, the state capital, is largely a collection of make-shift shacks, constructed with reeds, grass and roofed with disused UN humanitarian agency tarpaulins. The town lacks an urban water system, and an entire division shares one borehole. Most town residents use the Gazhal River, just outside of town, as their source of domestic water.

After more than a year of shut-down, South Sudan resumed oil production in April 2013. But in Unity State, one of the country’s oil-producing areas, benefits of oil wealth have yet to trickle down.
 
Bentiu, the state capital, is largely a collection of make-shift shacks, constructed with reeds, grass and roofed with disused UN humanitarian agency tarpaulins. The town lacks an urban water system, and an entire division shares one borehole. Most town residents use the Gazhal River, just outside of town, as their source of domestic water.
 
When Uganda Radio Network visited Bentiu, the town was cut off from its counties, because the only highway that runs through the state was blocked by flooding. The murram road is the state’s most important road, because it is the major ground-access to the oil fields.
 
It takes about two-and-a half hours to travel from Bentiu to Unity Oil Field, a journey that would be about just an hour on a smooth-surface road.
 
At the edge of Unity Oil Field, an oil production camp run by Greater Pioneer Operating Company Ltd, is Kuor trading centre, the largest community within this production area. The shops, selling salt, sugar, cold drinks, bread and tea are also make-shift shacks on both sides of the road.
 
James Keluak, the chairman of the traders at Kuor, says that the lack of safe drinking water is this business community’s major problem. He explains that it is the oil company that uses its trucks to fetch water for the people, as an act of Corporate Social Responsibility. But at the time URN reporter visited, the company hadn’t brought in any water for ten days, and a member of the community was seen fetching flood-water near the trading centre.
 
The only school in the community near Unity Oil Field was set up by the UN children’s agency, UNICEF. Simon Mamun, the local chief says the lack of enough education facilities is the main concern. Mamun says children have to travel about 10 kilometres to the primary school.
 
According to the country’s Petroleum Act 2012, each producing state gets 2 percent of revenue from the sale of oil. Another 3 percent goes direct to the communities around the producing areas.
 
Hon. Col. Mabek Lang Mading, the Deputy Governor for Unity State, says his government is aware of the state’s long list of challenges. They are currently drawing a development plan, whose implementation, starting with fixing the roads, will commence as soon as the central government starts sending down money from the sale of oil.
 
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William Daoud Riek, Unity State’s advisor on the economy, is also hopeful that now that the south is in charge of its oil, development will soon come to Bentiu and the rest of the state.
 
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Sudan exported its first oil in 1999. Although most of it came from the southern part of the then one nation, the southerners say Khartoum deliberately starved them of social services, due to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)’s war for independence from the north.
 
Unity State government, as well as its people are now hopeful that when oil money, expected in December, starts coming in, it will be put to good use.
 
South Sudan exports about 200, 000 barrels of crude oil per day.  At full production, from the two states of Unity and Upper Nile, its oil output should be 350, 000 barrels per day.
 
Unity Oil Field alone, which is comprised of 126 wells, although only 55 are operational at the moment, produces 19,000 barrels per day. When South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, 75 percent of all confirmed oil reserves went to the south. The country’s budget is 95 percent dependent on oil revenue.