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Building a new Sudan

When peace finally came, the daunting task of building a new country could begin. There were only ten kilometres of tarmacked road in Southern Sudan, which covers an area the size of Spain and Portugal combined. An estimated six million people, more than half of the population, relied on food aid. Geography, environment, tropical disease, poverty, war and a chronic lack of medical care had all contributed to a health crisis.

The peace agreement signed in 2005 ended 21 years of civil war with the north, a conflict that killed an estimated 2.2 million people. Since then, hundreds of thousands of southerners have returned to their homes and foreign investment has flowed into the region. Under the terms of the agreement with the government in Khartoum, the south gets 50% of Sudan's oil revenue. The deal stipulated that the south should be autonomous for six years, culminating in a referendum on independence which is due to be held in 2011.

Southern Sudan's newfound peace and prosperity are real, but the situation remains extremely fragile. There have been sporadic outbreaks of fighting, some directly related to oil. The country risks repeating the mistakes of other energy-rich states that have suffered the 'paradox of plenty' in which the blessing of resource wealth turns into a curse.

Sven Torfinn has been photographing in Southern Sudan since 2001, and has seen the transformation in cities like Juba and Bentiu. 'They are boom towns, but ordinary people are not very optimistic. Their lives are not changing. They see officials in big cars, building houses and hotels and disappearing to Nairobi every weekend. The people in power are former rebel commanders with little business know-how, and they are making deals with sharks from China, Europe and America who are out to make a quick buck. It's a wild west for business opportunities: the country needs everything from toilet paper to broadband internet, and because it is so urgent there is no quality control. Red tape and corruption are everywhere, and the political process - the whole future of the south - is guided by financial interests.'
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