by Dan Alder, Communications and Acvocacy Officer, CARE South Sudan
April 26, 2014
PAGAK, South Sudan – Nyakoang Rieka set out from her village in the afternoon. Pregnant and with her elderly mother and three small children in tow, she walked several miles through the hot, dry South Sudanese countryside to get to the food distribution at the Pagak Way Station, a group of canvas warehouses and austere concrete block buildings set up to distribute aid. Upon arrival, Ms. Rieka promptly gave birth to her fourth child. Within hours she was on her way back home with 2 week’s rations of sorghum, split peas and cooking oil and vaccinations for herself and the children.
What arrived as a family of five now accounted for six of the more than 8,000 people reached by the rapid response mission to Pagak, in Upper Nile State near the border with Ethiopia. The multi-agency effort was motivated by the conflict in South Sudan, and the enormous suffering that it has wrought. Almost 1.3 million people forced to flee their homes only with what they could carry. Some 4.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, and 3.2 million facing a food crisis.
The draw that brought thousands to the distribution centre from the surrounding communities to the CARE-supported rapid response mission was a combination of hunger brought on by disrupted lives and livelihoods and tons of food donated by the people of the United States and made available by the distribution system of the World Food Program (WFP). The dividend was health and malnutrition screening for children under five, polio and measles vaccinations for all children of appropriate age and tetanus shots for women. The parallel health activities were organized by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and implemented with the help of CARE International, other non-governmental organizations and local volunteers. The group also identified children who have been separated from their families and entered them into a nationwide data base designed to reunite families scattered by the conflict.
“This is an innovative relief initiative,” said CARE Emergencies Officer Isaac Vuciri. “It leverages one set of commodities to provide a broad range of health and protection services, all at the same time.” Mr. Vuciri spent several days helping prepare the four-day event, then spent two day registering families and physically verifying their head counts and another day helping to distribute the heavy sacks of grain and large cans of cooking oil.
Once registered, the families were guided over to another section of the Way Station where CARE Maternal and Child Health Care Officer Agnes Lawa helped with the screening of children under five for signs of malnutrition and other maladies. “We made a lot of referrals and those mothers will take their children to the local clinic tomorrow for further evaluation to confirm their nutritional status and whether they require in-patient or out-patient treatment,” Ms. Lawa said. “It is so sad to see these young children suffering so, but I take heart in knowing that they can improve rapidly with the right kind of very basic care.”
When the food distribution started, it was mostly women ranging in age from late adolescence to their sixties who came forward to carry off the 50 kilogram (110 lbs) bags of sorghum or split yellow peas, expertly balancing them on their heads. With the men off fighting or tending herds, the women are fending for their families amid homelessness, conflict and want. When towns change hands women are brutally targeted with sexual violence and murder by men with guns on both sides of the political divide.
Sisters Nyamoch and Nyagonar Tut, aged 17 and 13 respectively, were camped with family under trees on the red dirt of Pagak’s border area, considering making the crossing to Ethiopia and assuming the status of refugees. They had spend several months in the Protection of Civilians area (PoC) set up by the United Nations adjacent to its base in the state capital Malakal. Then, during a break in the fighting, they headed east, taking several weeks to make the trek to Pagak and the border. Nyamoch’s little sister did not make the journey. “Nyanhial was 7 years old,” the elder sister said. “When the fighting came to Malakal we ran from our house and were trying to hide, but as we sat quietly the others came and started shooting at us. We ran but my sister was hit by a bullet and killed. We went back later to get her body so that we could bury her.”
The remaining family members had stopped just short of crossing the border, kept inside of South Sudan by the promise of the rapid response food distribution in Pagak. The fighting has not reached this far east, but it has disrupted markets and livelihoods, and kept farmers from planting crops. Here many of the people have left, forced out not by violence but by hunger. People said they wanted to stay, but did not have the means to. Meanwhile almost 100,000 South Sudanese have opted for refugee settlements on the Ethiopian side of the border. Provision of services on this side could keep many in their own land.
CARE and others are scaling up interventions aimed at covering some of the gaps in the food market, providing people with seed and hand tools to sow them, as well as fishing nets to better feed their families with fish from the White Nile River and its many tributaries. These inputs will mitigate the worst effects of the food crisis gripping South Sudan. The wells CARE is repairing and drilling in the conflict affected areas will help stem the increased threat of disease. The health facilities CARE supports will continue treating rampant malaria and other maladies and tending the wounds of those caught up in the conflict. CARE is committed to helping the people of South Sudan weather this terrible storm.