By Masha Hamilton, Vice President, Communications, Concern Worldwide, U.S.
JUBA, South SudanóJima starts nearly every morning with a glance at the sky, watching for rain. His interest is not idle. A block leader in a camp who fled their homes after fighting broke out here four and a half months ago, he knows the problems faced by residents for whom he is responsible are going to multiply once the skies open and the land floods.
The heavy rains could begin any day now and usually last until October. Most of the makeshift shelters in the congested camp where Jima lives have not yet been elevated. Not enough nets have been distributed to meet needs once the rains bring a likely increase in mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria. Drainage ditches are being dug at full pelt, but maybe not quickly enough to beat the rains, which have arrived early.
“The people are going to have a miserable rainy season, and there is only so much we can do about it,” said†Concern Worldwide‘s Country Director for South Sudan, John Kilkenny. “The camps grew up around spots of necessity, not of choice. They were spots that provided a degree of physical safety as people fled in fear.”
Concern Worldwide is working closely with other non-governmental agencies to meet the needs. In Jima’s PoC (Protection of Civilians) camp #1, on a UNMISS (United Nations Mission in the†Republic of South Sudan) military base, Concern Worldwide has distributed 185 metric tons of food in April, including sorghum, lentils, vegetable oil and salt.
Concern Worldwide also conducts screening for supplementary food distribution for malnourished children and pregnant and lactating mothers, and distributes non-food items, including material to reinforce shelters (e.g., plastic sheeting, nylon ropes and sandbags). Concern Worldwide is also racing to deliver thousands of cubic meters of soil so that people can raise the bases of their makeshift homes in an attempt to keep them above the waterline once the rains come.
But UN officials have warned that a donor shortfall is likely to worsen the crisis, especially beyond the capital city of Juba where market shelves lay bare and aid has been slow to arrive. John Kilkenny agreed.
“People are already desperate. But donors have a chance to head off a potential catastrophe,” he said. “Money contributed today will help resolve problems as the crisis worsens.”
In the camp where Jima lives, an angry group from his block was waiting one recent morning to discuss overcrowding. It is a common complaint. The population, which grows weekly, stands at about 10,500 in the camp. In all, the UN says 923,000 South Sudanese have been displaced from their homes due to the violence. More than 293,000 people have become refugees in neighboring countries, and some 4.9 million people need humanitarian assistance.
And only one-third of estimated aid needs for the first six months of the year have been met to date. The UN has warned up to a million people could face famine if additional aid doesn’t come in soon.
Even if conditions become more difficult, most residents of PoC #1 say they fear it remains too dangerous for them to leave. International officials are also encouraging residents to stay in the camp.
“It seems like we are in jail now. No movement is allowed,” said Jima, a former member of the national security forces, who left the forces after he found himself unable to prevent the killings he suspected were ongoing and in fear for his own life.
In the nearby Tomping camp, closer to Juba’s center, Marsa, 43, is the head of her family of eight children. Because she feels responsible for them, she is very worried about the coming rains. “Already our shelter is leaking,” she said. “We will only have to try to scoop out the water when it rains. But I know my family will get sick, and when they are wet, they will be chilled.”
Marsa also feels she has no where else to go. Her home in Juba was burned to the ground. Her family lives in Uror County, in Jonglei State, bordering Ethiopia. To go there would take her family four days by car, and she has no way to transport them all. “Our life here isn’t proper,” she said. “It is up to the men who are fighting to make peace.”
Jima’s dream for the future is that he will be able to return home and again take up his work for the national security forces. Like Marsa, he thinks the future he seeks will only be possible if the international community prevails on both sides in the conflict to hold meaningful peace talks.
Otherwise, there are long-term implications for South Sudan, Jima warned. “Our children are missing school,” he said. “This is a big problem because they are the ones who will build the future of this country.”
“And also,” he added, “a human needs to be able to go out into the city where he lives and not be afraid. We are so afraid.”
Concern Worldwide is working with those affected by the conflict in South Sudan, distributing emergency food and household supplies, providing water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and treating malnutrition in young children. For more, visit concernusa.org.
Photo: Marsa, 43, is the head of her family of eight children. When her home in Juba was burned to the ground, she and her family fled to seek refuge at Tomping camp. Credit: Masha Hamilton/Concern Worldwide