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One year on, South Sudan struggles to survive

Feuds over boundaries and oil-pumping fees deprive South Sudan of revenue and bring it close to war with Sudan one year after independence.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / July 6, 2012

A woman carries water through the flooded Jamam refugee camp at the Upper Nile, South Sudan, July 2. Refugees are fleeing from the heavy seasonal rain that recently flooded the Jamam refugee camp and gravely expanded the risk of illness.

Adriane Ohanesian/Reuters

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One year ago, South Sudan became the world’s newest nation. Today, it has oil wealth it can't ship to market, impoverished citizens it can't seem to feed or house, and a feud with Khartoum it can't seem to end. 

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Turning the landlocked but oil rich South Sudan into a functioning country was never going to be easy, of course. But doing so in the midst of an economic dispute with its neighbor and rival, Sudan – a dispute over how much money South Sudan should pay Sudan to pump oil through Sudan’s pipelines and out to international markets – has been crushing. If South Sudan was a baby, it has been deprived of nutrition for the first year of its life.

More dangerously, South Sudan and Sudan have come close to launching a full-out war, as Sudanese jets bomb villages inside South Sudanese territory, and as South Sudanese troops invaded to take control, briefly, of Sudan’s last giant oil-producing town of Heglig. Both nations claim the Heglig fields and lingering boundary disputes continue to keep these two nations on war footing.

Talks between Sudan and South Sudan resumed Thursday in Addis Ababa, and the United Nations has given the two countries two months to resolve their differences. A previous round of talks ended last week, with no progress.

South Sudan is not the first nation to be born in the midst of conflict, of course. The United States broke away from Britain for very similar reasons as South Sudan had for breaking from Sudan: the sense that the colonial masters were profiting more from America’s natural wealth than Americans were. But just as America’s independence was very nearly snuffed out by much better armed and prepared British troops in the Revolutionary War, so South Sudan is paying dearly for its disputes with Khartoum.

More than 400,000 people of South Sudanese descent have moved to South Sudan since 2010, and hundreds of thousands more remain in Sudan proper. Many of these people have no housing, no regular access to running water or sanitation, or to adequate health care. There are not enough schools to accommodate the children of these newcomers, and not enough jobs for the young men and women who left behind a better economic life in the cities of the north.

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