UNMISS Bangladeshi Marine Unit gets infrastructural upgrade boosting their operational readiness
Seen from the air, the river Nile winding its way across South Sudan resembles a glittering necklace adorning the world’s youngest country.
This mighty river sustains lives and livelihoods for communities living far and wide.
It also has a darker side: When the rains start sweeping across the land, darkening clear blue skies into a thousand shades of grey, the corresponding rise in water levels creates a situation where tens of thousands are displaced due to flooding.
Roads become impassable and community access to services, such as healthcare, schools, and markets, often comes to a halt.
Despite these hardships, the waterway is critical for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), as peacekeepers from Bangladesh stationed at Mangalla port, Central Equatoria, supply essential rations, fuel, and equipment to their counterparts in Malakal, Upper Nile.
This is life-saving work, as Qazi Masroor Ullah, Acting Director of Mission Support, reveals.
“This logistic operation is called Operation Lifeline and it’s literally a lifeline for the mission because our Bangladeshi Marine Unit carries all major logistic goods to areas where road networks are almost negligible. This enables our peacekeepers to fulfil their protection duties more efficiently and effectively,” says Mr. Ullah.
The journey to Malakal undertaken regularly by the Marine Unit isn’t easy as a visiting delegation, led by the Head of the UN Peacekeeping mission, Nicholas Haysom, discovered.
Peacekeepers traverse 1,000 kilometers by water, crossing more than 42 checkpoints, carrying enormous amounts of necessary goods that enable the UNMISS presence in Malakal to sustain itself for more than three months at a stretch.
For Mr Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, these riverine trips are essential, connecting directly to what Blue Helmets are deployed to do in the world’s youngest nation—protect civilians and build a durable, inclusive peace.
“We have to recognize that in a country that is as challenged as South Sudan in terms of road transport the river is a very accessible, efficient and cheap form of transport,” states the top UN envoy.
“If we are to exploit this advantage, we must have necessary Force protection and that responsibility is very ably discharged by the Bangladeshi Marine Unit.”
The perils of the water aren’t the only challenge that seven rotations of Bangladeshi mariners have faced. They have been serving for peace in some of the harshest living conditions across the country, sleeping in tents above fuel containers, an arrangement that brought with it strict safety restrictions that were not easy, to say the least.
“For the past six years, we did not have any dedicated accommodation arrangement for them,” explains Mr. Ullah. “They had to live in a normal tent over the fuel barges. Directly under them are millions of liters of fuel. From the safety point of view there are restrictions—you can’t charge your mobile phone, you can’t switch on electricity, there is no air conditioning.”
Since care for peacekeepers is something UNMISS prides itself on, things have changed and a brand-new accommodation barge will provide a much-needed respite to these brave Blue Helmets as they carry out their duties.
“We are here today because the Marine Unit has had a significant upgrade in its accommodation, from a situation where really the accommodation was sub-standard,” says SRSG Haysom. “I’m very glad we have been able to address this and we’ve had to the opportunity to engage with the Unit, find out what exactly they do—not only what they do on a day-by-day basis but where it fits in with the overall UNMISS operations.
The operational significance of the work done by these 30 committed Bangladeshi peacekeepers cannot be overemphasized as, against all odds, they strive to keep fulfilling mammoth responsibilities.
“The advantages that this small Marine Unit bring to UNMISS are immense. In a situation where mobility is restricted, the weather is challenging and infrastructure is underdeveloped, they complete a supply run in 12-15 days,” states Acting Force Commander, Main Ullah Chowdhury. “This is economical and saves time. Plus, they have done some 52 such cycles since they have been deployed. I am happy that the upcoming supply run will be undertaken by peacekeepers in much more comfortable conditions,” he adds.
With increasing importance on robust, agile, and nimble responses from all UN Peacekeeping missions as they protect civilians and build peace, the UNMISS Bangladeshi Marine Unit stands out as a stellar example.
“Across all peace operations, there is an increasing appreciation of the need for peacekeepers to be more agile and mobile and to cover more ground. At UNMISS, access through the river not only gives us another arrow in our quiver, so to speak, but I am also conscious that there could be elections in South Sudan in the near to medium-term future, which will impose quite significant responsibilities to look after the logistics—elections are logistics-heavy—and that will certainly implicate our riverine elements as well as our road transport elements,” stated the SRSG at the conclusion of the visit.
As the day ended, and the last rays of the setting sun slanted upon the White Nile, 30 Bangladeshi peacekeepers received appreciation for their unstinting service to the cause of sustainable peace in South Sudan.