South Sudan

UNMISS peacekeepers hand over prosthetic limbs, changing the lives of long-suffering veterans

MACH SAMUEL/GIDEON SACKITEY/FILIP ANDERSSON

JONGLEI – There is an abundance of painful statistics to remind us of the long-lasting suffering in the wake of war. Here is another one: an estimated 80,000 people in South Sudan need artificial limbs.

In Jonglei State, many people have been carrying on with their lives without one or more limbs for decades. Bearing that in mind, the joy when Indian peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) offered prosthetic limbs to some of the war veterans disabled by the country’s war for independence is easily understandable.

“We have been largely ignored for decades. In some countries, wounded soldiers receive retirement packages and other kinds of compensation in case of injury or death. If they are lucky, they also get free, quality health services, free education and priority when applying for a job after being forced to retire from the army,” says Kuol Garang Deng, who lost a leg on 23 May 1983 and only received a replacement on this day, 39 years later.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mr. Deng belongs to an overwhelming majority: the approximately 80 per cent of those in need of a new limb who do so because of gunshots, shells or landmines.

For many of them, life is not only painful but without dignity, as they more often than not depend on the daily assistance of others just to get by.

Teng Nhial Alier knows everything about that. After eight years as a foot soldier, having been promoted to Sergeant, he had his leg blown away on 27 March 1992, as he landed on a mine during an assault on a garrison a few kilometres from Juba. On this day, being given a prosthetic leg, his life changes in front of our eyes.

“This is the first time we in Jonglei are receiving any kind of support, so this is a day of immense joy,” said Diing Awar, a fellow and suddenly much more mobile beneficiary.

After the war for independence, authorities estimated that 15,000 people needed artificial limbs. This number was revised to 50,000, but after the bouts of civil war in 2013-2104 and 2016 the current figure is believed to be 80,000.

How many of these limb-affected people who live in Jonglei is unknown, but there were enough of them for the state’s Disabled Persons’ Association to contact the peacekeeping mission’s Human Rights Division for possible assistance. Their plea was passed on to the Indian peacekeepers based in Bor, who have now made available 100 artificial legs and arms.

Martha Achol Deng, one of two female recipients of a helping leg, was 19 when she was caught up in armed conflict and assigned to carry cases of ammunition and food to those at the frontline. Ironically, she lost her leg in a different kind of violence, of the domestic kind.

“It was in 2018 and I was trying to separate a couple who were fighting, so when the woman pulled a gun and intended to shoot her husband, the bullet hit me instead and I lost my leg. Since then, life has been miserable as I couldn’t afford what these kind peacekeepers have now given me,” she said.

Atong Kuol Manyang, Jonglei State’s Minister of Health, was grateful for the assistance provided.

“With these artificial legs, movement will be easier, with people being able to do things they couldn’t before, which also eases the burden on relatives and others who have helped them,” the Minister said.