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Construction of Nile River bridge in S. Sudan on hold following Japanese evacuation

The construction site of a Nile River bridge, put on hold due to the resumption of fighting, is seen in Juba. (Mainichi)

JUBA -- A bridge over the Nile River here that was being constructed by Japanese aid workers remains unfinished after the workers evacuated following a resumption of fighting in the country in July this year.

    The South Sudanese government is calling for the resumption to construction of the bridge, which would support the transport of supplies and the development of the area, but without the return of staff from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which was building the bridge, there is no resumption of the construction in sight.

    When a Mainichi reporter visited the site in mid-December this year, there were three security guards with nothing to do sitting around. The site was fenced off, and inside were abandoned construction vehicles and construction materials.

    According to a source with the project, they have been in touch with the Japanese staff and have done maintenance on the abandoned vehicles in their absence. The source commented that five months had passed since the construction was put on hold and asked with a concerned look when the Japanese staff would return. The bridge was scheduled to be completed in June 2018, but the source says the completion will likely be delayed.

    According to JICA, after the project, which costs around 8.1 billion yen, was started in March 2013, it was put on hold at the end of that year due to what was effectively the outbreak of a civil war in the country. Work resumed in March last year before the most recent stoppage.

    South Sudan has not built up industry even after becoming independent in 2011, and most food and other supplies are imported from neighboring Uganda and Kenya. In order to carry supplies to Juba by road, it is necessary to cross the Nile River, which is around 300 meters wide, but currently the only bridge is a temporary one built in 1974. Part of the bridge has collapsed, making it difficult to drive large trucks across the bridge. The new bridge is called the "freedom bridge" locally, and it has become a symbol of peace and hope for the people of the war-torn country.

    A PR officer for the local state government told the Mainichi Shimbun that if Japan is going to think of the welfare of the people of South Sudan, the officer wants the Japanese staff to return and complete the bridge.

    The evacuated JICA staff members have, since September this year, been shifting their base of operations to Uganda, where they have resumed aid work like providing agricultural technology support. While they are in contact through teleconferences and other means with staff in South Sudan and providing them with instructions, the JICA press department says "We do not have an expected time for a return."

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