#GoodNews: Indian Peacekeepers Rebuild Bridge in South Sudan
The bridge leading to the town of Akoka had collapsed in 2017, leaving the 2,000 or so residents stranded.
Indian peacekeepers played saviour in South Sudan, after they rebuilt a bridge that connects the isolated township of Akoka to the second largest city in South Sudan, Malakal, according to the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan.
Over 2,000 residents in Akoka, in the central upper Nile area, were stranded after the 300-metre stretch of road connecting Akoka to Malakal of South Sudan collapsed in June 2017, following heavy rains.
The Akoka Bridge runs between Malakal and Melut, and is the only major service road in the area. The two towns form an important part of South Sudan’s commerce and trade.
The road provides a trade route between the two. With the repair complete, Akoka town’s residents can continue with trade and commerce, which forms an important part of their livelihood.
How Did They Do It?
Skeletal remains of rusty cars and trucks dotted the swamp surrounding the road, reminders of failed crossing attempts and a testament to the task that the peacekeepers faced.
According to the UN Peacekeeping Mission report, peacekeepers from the 62 Indian Horizontal Mechanical Engineering Company undertook the formidable task of rebuilding the bridge.
“We performed this by transporting white soil from Malakal, 60 kilometres away, to the point of the collapse. This is an emergency intervention to ensure that during the dry season the UN, the Sudanese government, and the people in the area can use this route,” said Isaac Mwesigye, field engineer at the UN Peacekeeping mission’s upper Nile base.
The major challenge was reconstructing the bridge through an area that was submerged, up to 4 metres in some places. With little time and sparse resources, we had to cross it as fast as possible to make this road accessible and recommence our repair work of the supply road.Lieutenant Colonel Nishkam Puri, Officer In-Charge, Indian Engineering Company
Happy the Bridge is Repaired: Akoka Residents
To fully comprehend the pain and loss that arose from this bridge’s collapse, one needs to first understand the importance of the bridge.
It forms the only route between the country’s trade capital and the isolated Akoka. The community is largely reliant on fishery for their livelihood. The collapse of the bridge meant residents would have to wade across neck-deep water, carrying their catch, to reach the Sudanese markets.
We have suffered heavily, constantly wading through water with our goods and our animals. Now, with the road, we can even carry heavy things without getting in the water. We are very happy here in Akoka, We are happy because the peacekeepers have done the work well.Samuel James Ayot, Akoka Resident
The group of Indian engineers from the peacekeeping mission began repair work on the 204-kilometre stretch in November 2017, around the same time the UN awarded 1,000 Indians with the UN Medal for their service.
The peacekeepers added that the next stage would be to add structures to ensure the bridge stays stable and doesn’t collapse in the next rainy season.
India’s Peacekeeping Past with Sudan
UN Peacekeepers Dharmendra Sangwan and Kumar Pal Singh were killed in an attack on a UN compound in the town of Akobo. At the time, over 43 Indian peacekeepers were working in the region.
Indian peacekeepers have been a consistent presence in Sudan, with 50 peacekeepers awarded the UN Medal in October 2017, and over 1,000 Indian peacekeepers being awarded the UN medal for “dedicated service and sacrifice,” in November 2017, according to PTI.
(With inputs from BBC, PTI, & the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan)
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