07/18/2012 12:04 EDT | Updated 09/17/2012 05:12 EDT

A Year of Independence for South Sudan, a Long Way to Go


The first Sudanese civil war, which was waged in 1955, marked the beginning of a series of conflicts that will forever be remembered as some of the greatest atrocities that our world has ever witnessed. Since 1983 conflict in Sudan has claimed the lives of over two million people and left an additional four million people homeless. The crisis that has ravaged Sudan has displaced millions of people, tearing apart families and entire communities thus making Sudan one of the most poor and least developed countries in the entire world.

In 2002 I was appointed as Canada's envoy to the peace process in Sudan. For four years I had the honour of travelling on behalf of Canadians to many parts of Sudan. I have the opportunity to travel both to the south and the north of Sudan where I witnessed first hand the impact war has had on the lives of the people living in these regions. At that time, Sudan had been at war for 50 years. In many parts in South Sudan, where the situation was particularly dire, the war had completely destroyed any semblance of governance. In addition, everything on the ground had been destroyed. There were no schools, no hospitals and no buildings to be found.

My experience working in Sudan forced me recognize the atrocities brought about as a result of violence and conflict and taught me the true meaning of war. It was here that I learned that war is seeing children whose stomachs are swollen and covered in loose, hanging skin. War is seeing a child's hair turn from black to blond as a result of malnutrition. War is feeling a sense of relief when hearing a child scream out and cry, knowing that silence is usually a sign of defeat.

On July 8, South Sudan celebrated its first year of independence. Although the independence of South Sudan marked the end of over five decades of conflict, the future of its citizens remains bleak. Individuals living in this country are still unable to access even the most basic of necessities including food, security, shelter and education. In fact, young women living in South Sudan are more likely to die during childbirth than to finish primary school, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world to have a baby.

Although, over the past year, South Sudan has indeed made some great strides much progress has yet to be made as the situation in this country remains volatile.

The sad reality is that there are many countries today that are plagued by violence and conflict. As Canadians, we are fortunate to be able to call one of the most peaceful countries in the world home. However, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted by the comforts that we are so fortunate to enjoy. We must continue to educate ourselves about the harsh realities of the world and we must respond to the cries of men, women and children who often are forced to suffer in solitude.

As South Sudan celebrates its first year of independence let us all reflect on the challenges that people living in this region are still consistently confronted with. Let us come together and find ways to help ensure that the men, women and children who call South Sudan home, one day enjoy the same freedoms that we so often take for granted.