Journey across drought-affected S. Sudan

CARE International (Press Release)

An unprecedented drought is affecting East Africa and it is not expected to end any time soon. That means there are more hard times ahead – but from what I saw on my recent visit, the people of South Sudan and Somalia are determined (with CARE’s help and thanks to the generosity of the UK public) to get through it.

I’ve travelled to South Sudan several times over the past years. I know what a rainy season looks like, so I came prepared. I had my rain-jacket, my gumboots (up to the knees as it gets really muddy there), and a waterproof backpack. Only there was no rain. To my surprise we could easily land in Koch (Unity State) and from there drive for five hours along the road to Pakur (Gany County).

The nature and scale of humanitarian needs in South Sudan is not just due to the drought: it is also the consequence of ongoing violence and conflict. In March 2017, famine was declared in Koch County and 4.9 million people (about 42% of the population) were estimated to be severely food insecure across South Sudan. Thanks to the immediate response of CARE and other humanitarian partners, the famine alert has been lifted, but the late onset of the rainy season and the ongoing conflict have contributed to an increase in the number of food-insecure people to 6 million by July 2017.

John in Pakur: “People here have had no food for 10 months; we all depend on milk to survive. As members of the Community Committee we have a very big task: before the distribution we tell the community not to eat the seeds but to plant them so we will have crops and vegetables to harvest.”

Working in South Sudan is not easy. Poor infrastructure, security concerns and logistical glitches require lots of efforts and good planning to ensure a timely response. Working together with the South Sudanese NGO, Nile Hope, we were the first humanitarian actors to have an operational base in Pakur, where famine was declared in March.

As this is a new area for operation of humanitarian workers, even charter emergency deliveries of supplies such seeds and tools or fishing kits take longer than usual, requiring security clearance for the airstrip, discussions with the authorities both in Pakur and in Juba, and with the airline company, all the time hoping that the moment all the documents are ready it is still possible to land and the airstrip is not flooded because of the longed-for rains.

Many people are coming back here from Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) site, some of them with cattle, but there is no health centre, no school, no market. In order to go to the clinic, people have to walk to Koch or to Bentiu, which can take up to 16 hours in the bush.

Nyajima is a member of the Community-Based Protection and Accountability Committee in Pakur: “In our culture is rare to see a man sharing house duties, but now I have learned that if a woman is pregnant the man can help her.”

CARE and Nile Hope are implementing a project in Koch and Pakur with funding from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). There, we distribute seeds and tools and fishing kits to women and men of the community and train them on improved agricultural and fishing techniques. In line with CARE’s commitment to empower women and girls and promote a life free from violence, we also set up a gender-based violence programme to raise awareness in the community, give women and girls a safe space to do psychosocial activities together, and ensure that survivors of GBV receive emergency medical services and the psychological support services they need.

CARE is a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and the programmes described here were funded by donations from the UK public to the DEC’s East Africa Crisis Appeal. Donations were doubled by the UK Aid Match scheme provided by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Thanks to this funding, CARE was able to support 104,000 vulnerable people with food, cash, livelihoods, access to water and protection activities.

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