South Sudan

Helping rural families survive as conflict persists

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The brutal violence that has plagued South Sudan for more than a year continues after another round of unsuccessful peace talks between government and rebel forces last month. In recent weeks, the population of displaced people living at the UN base in Bentiu has risen dramatically from 53,000 people to 75,000.

A string of futile negotiations and seven ceasefire attempts have so far failed to bring peace to the young nation, leaving its people in the grip of a devastating humanitarian crisis. The ongoing conflict has forced 2 million people to flee their homes and left 2.5 million on the brink of starvation — and the numbers are only rising.

As the war continues, there is no telling when farmers will be able to return to their land, when markets will begin to function again, or when those who have been uprooted will be able to resume the lives they once knew.

Until they can go home again, Mercy Corps is helping conflict-affected families get back on their feet as much as possible in the places they have sought refuge. And it starts with helping them get the food they need to survive.

We’re helping them grow crops, restart local markets and find ways to sustain themselves despite the uncertainty they’re up against.

Around 90 percent of the displaced are sheltering in rural areas of South Sudan — in the relative safety of small, remote villages or the cover of the wild bush. While these places are farther from the violence that is ravaging the larger towns and cities, they are in no way secure. There is not enough food, and hunger is a daily battle.

Many traders are too scared to travel to distant locations, so markets are barren. The food and supplies that do make it are too expensive for vulnerable — and jobless — families to afford. And heavy seasonal flooding completely isolates these rural areas, making it difficult for families there to access goods or even be reached with aid.

Without support, they will go hungry.

That’s why we’re helping displaced families in rural South Sudan grow the food they need right where they’re living. We’re distributing gardening tools like rakes, hoes and watering cans so people can build and maintain their own small gardens.

To help them get started, we provide seeds for fresh produce including kale, okra, eggplant, green pepper, pumpkin, and onion. We also give farmer trainings to teach them how to properly cultivate the crops.

Mabiel received gardening supplies from Mercy Corps and is now able to feed her family with the food she grows. She even sells the extra at the local market for a little bit of income. As more families are able to grow and sell food, it will help bring stalled markets back to life.

The most at-risk families receive unconditional cash transfers. Cash gives them purchasing power to buy the things they need most, and provides an incentive for traders to bring their wares to the rural markets where displaced families are desperately in need of food and supplies.

We also distribute food vouchers that can be exchanged solely for fish from local fishermen. This ensures a diverse diet for hungry families and provides access to a food source that isn’t disrupted by seasonal flooding.

Providing fishermen with a steady market for their fish encourages them to do business in needy areas. It also helps secure the fishermen’s livelihoods and their ability to cope with the volatility in the region.

A fisherman named Adam, who received a net and hooks last November, explained just how important fishing is to him. “Fishing is very important. It can change your life. Fishing can take you from a hard situation to a better life,” he said. Every evening, he takes his daily catch of fish to the local market, hoping that people will buy some in time to cook for dinner.

So far we’ve reached 130,000 people with food and livelihood assistance, but there are many more families in need of aid. As the crisis continues, we must provide the support they need — before it’s too late.

Note: The names of these beneficiaries have been changed to protect their identity and safety.

How you can help

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