Their task was daunting. Upon first inspection of what was left of one of the tarmacs at the Malakal airport, the gallant Indian peacekeepers serving the United Nations Mission in South Sudan were met by huge cracks.
This particular section of the Malakal runway, also laden with significantly-sized craters, had remained untouched by landing wheels and passengers since 2013, when the crisis broke out.
Delving deeper into the assessment exercise, matters quickly went from bad to worse: the engineering troops soon found themselves surrounded by thick bushes standing tall at the peripheries, at places reaching dizzying heights of approximately eight feet. Some of the pesky scrub had even displayed the full force of nature by breaking through the cracks they saw fit.
Yet, the Indian peacekeeping engineers remained undeterred, acting nimbly to complete their assignment.
"This project fell far beyond the realm of our regular work here, but we took up the task and cracks head on. We are very pleased with the outcome," says their commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Supratim Datta. "The biggest challenge of them all was actually to get hold of the bitumen, because it is not common here."
The arduous work of rehabilitating the long-neglected runway had to be scheduled around the arrivals and departures of airborne objects taking place at an adjacent airstrip pertaining to the same flight operating facilities. This inevitable inconvenience meant that the blue-helmeted engineers spent an unprecedented number of evenings and weekends at the by then eerily quiet airport.
With its road infrastructure in a predominantly poor state, South Sudan relies heavily on air transport. Malakal, some 600 kilometres north of Juba and inaccessible by road, is no exception.
The Malakal airport manager, David Garang Mangok, has applauded the sustained relationship with the the peacekeeping mission, which has contributed greatly to the maintenance of the infrastructure of the aviation sector.
"I'd like to commend their good quality of work, support and cooperation," he said.
Last year the Indian peacekeeping engineers based in Malakal rehabilitated 205 kilometres of a major service road to Melut, thus improving business and humanitarian services between the two cities.
Performing their vital services, Lieutenant Colonel Datta and his men are living their dream.
"As engineers, it is a dream for us to be able to do work on infrastructure development that has a positive impact on the lives of the people. We are very happy and thankful that we have been able to do something for people of South Sudan".