South Sudan crisis

Oct 23, 2014

Oct Hunger and conflict pushing South Sudan to the brink of famine

23
2014
As humanitarian crises in the Middle East dominate news headlines and the world rallies to tackle the ebola outbreak, hunger and conflict have combined to push South Sudan – the world’s newest country – to the very brink of famine.
 
The recent Scottish referendum is a stark reminder that even in times of peace and democracy, the path to independence can divide a nation. In Ireland, we know too well the enduring struggles the journey towards independence can bring.
 
South Sudan became the newest country in the world in 2011 following two decades of civil war in what was then part of Sudan. A green country not unlike our own where the River Nile flows, independence brought optimism for a brighter future.
 
 
But the high hopes of just three years ago now lie in tatters. At least 10,000 people have lost their lives and over one million have fled their homes. Around four million people (more than the population of Leinster and Munster combined) are struggling to find enough to eat.
 
In a report titled ‘From Crisis to Catastrophe’, Oxfam Ireland and other aid agencies including Christian Aid, Concern, Goal, Trócaire, Tearfund and World Vision have warned that the number of people facing dangerous levels of hunger is expected to increase by 1 million between January and March next year.
 
They are not the victims of nature, but of a disaster which is the result of a political dispute between two leaders that has escalated into a conflict rooted in the unresolved tensions of the Sudan civil war combined with the proliferation of arms and the lack of development in what is one of the poorest countries in the world.
 
There are fears among those working on the ground that efforts so far this year to prevent the crisis from deteriorating will falter as rival sides are regrouping ready to resume violence once the rainy seasons end this month. The threat of famine is very real.
 
Despite this, the sheer number and scale of crises worldwide – Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, the Central African Republic and now the ebola virus among them – means the rapidly deteriorating situation in South Sudan has slipped off the news agenda.
 
The UN has declared South Sudan the world’s worst food crisis. But if we wait for an official declaration of famine to put South Sudan in the global spotlight, it will be too late. By the time famine was declared in Somalia and the Horn of Africa in July 2011, more than 125,000 people, half of the famine’s victims, had already died.
 
Since the violence broke out in December, men, women and children have been targeted because of their ethnicity and many have lost the people they love most in the world. They are scared and hungry.
 
Many have had to leave behind their possessions, crops and livestock or sell their assets to escape and have no means to buy food, water and other essentials. The conflict has meant that people were not able to plant crops. Camps are becoming overcrowded and poor sanitation is increasing the risk of disease.
 
Gwada Joseph (27) walks through open sewers in the Malakal camp for internally displaced people in the Upper Nile province, where heavy rains are making life intolerable for civilians. Gwada fled her home in Malakal town during the second rebel attack on her town in February 2014. Her husband was unable to escape and died in the fighting, while Gwada, her mother and four children made it to the safety of the UN camp.
 
 
Above: Gwada Joseph, 27, with son Mark, 1, in the Malakal IDP camp, South Sudan, where recent rains are making life intolerable for civilians. Photo: Simon Rawles/ Oxfam
 
Her home in the camp routinely floods in the rains, making life unbearable for her and her children. The rains in Malakal mean flooding is a regular occurrence and it is common to see people having to wade through water and mud that’s knee deep with little escape from mosquitoes, sewage and disease.
 
International aid – including Ireland’s contribution – has had a significant and positive impact on Gwada and her people’s lives. Food distributions make the difference in people eating even one meal a day and clean water has prevented more serious outbreaks of disease, while the distribution of solar lamps is helping keep girls and women safe.
 
Yet a massive funding gap remains (the UN World Food Programme estimates that $78 million is needed each month to deliver assistance) and the outlook for 2015 is of great concern, with news that 2.5 million people are projected to be in crisis or emergency from January to March 2015.
 
Sadly, this is not a crisis that will be ended simply with more aid. There needs to be political pressure to end this conflict. If the international community really wants to avert a famine then it must take a stronger stance towards the leaders of South Sudan increasing diplomatic efforts to end the fighting.
 
The UN Security Council must impose an embargo on the arms and ammunition that are sustaining the conflict and ensure that it is rigorously enforced. Every political negotiation should focus on the most important priorities; overcoming the obstacles that South Sudan’s people face in reaching aid; ending the violence immediately; and searching for a sustainable political solution.
 
The world must protect South Sudan’s people from violence; without ending the violence, the threat of famine will never be far away. With more vigorous diplomacy and swift action to convene a political solution inclusive of all people in South Sudan, the world has a chance to prevent that.
 
Otherwise 50,000 children will die from malnutrition unless we wake the world up and act now.
 
Because declaring a famine is like declaring a car crash – once it happens, it’s too late.
 
 

South Sudan: From the Other Side of the War

Aug 19, 2014

Aug Humanitarian work is intense and all-consuming, but I believe in what I do

19
2014

This week we celebrate World Humanitarian Day, honouring aid workers around the world who dedicate themselves to helping people to recover from humanitarian crises every day.  Here we hear first-hand from Ciara O’Malley who leads Oxfam’s humanitarian work in Juba in South Sudan:

It’s funny to think that I grew up not far from the Oxfam shop in Rathfarnham - now I’m working for them thousands of miles away in South Sudan.

I moved here from Pakistan, where I spent nearly three years working with Trócaire in communities affected by natural disasters such as floods. 

You face a number of the same challenges in going to Pakistan or South Sudan as you would going to any other country, be it Australia or Canada, in terms of trying to find your feet. It’s a new job and team you’re working with, you’re also trying to make new friends, and you have to figure it all out, from working out the currency to where to do your food shop.

Above: Oxfam's Ciara O' Malley who is leading our humanitarian work in Juba in South Sudan Photo: Sorcha Nic Mhathúna / Oxfam

Of course, there are certain things you pick up along the way. ‘Load-shedding’ is a key word that comes up frequently in conversation in Pakistan, the term for the rolling power cuts that can last for up to 12 hours a day. That was certainly something to contend with when you’re without air-conditioning in 45 degree heat!

The first month or two I was there I was convinced that I was definitely not going to stay a day longer than the planned year! But I ended up loving it. I also met my boyfriend there. He is a British diplomat based in Pakistan, so that may have been a major contributing factor for why I stayed so long in Pakistan! 

Now that I’m in South Sudan and he’s still in Pakistan, it’s the ultimate long-distance relationship but I find the key is decent internet connection so that you can Skype each other as well as having a defined end point of the long distance.

I was really interested in working in South Sudan for a number of years. Being a new country that is now just three years old, it has great potential but it has been wrecked by decades-long civil war, and now that conflict is being divided along ethnic lines. What’s unfolding here is a complex emergency where there’s ongoing conflict but also a severe food crisis. It’s a very challenging environment to work in.

South Sudan is a dusty place, but when you’re landing, you see that it’s surprisingly green (not unlike Ireland) because of all the sun and rain it gets during the wet season. I live in Juba, which is the capital but it is quite small. South Sudan is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. But despite having little or no proper roads, people in Juba are pretty good at following the rules of the road.

The South Sudanese are very friendly people but are initially quite reserved. Once you develop a relationship with them they’re extremely warm and caring people.

Above: Oxfam's Grace Cahill talks with Martha Nyandit (42). Martha and her six children are amongst the thousands of people who have fled several rounds of violent and bloody fighting in and around the town of Bor in Jonglei state. (You can read Martha's incredible story of survival story herePhoto: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam
 

Managing humanitarian programmes is a lot of responsibility. Trying to get your first break is the hardest part; it’s a mixture between luck but also a lot of hard work and you constantly have to be proving yourself. Aid work is a very competitive sector to break into with a lot of extremely well-qualified people looking for jobs.

I think the recession made it more difficult to get those jobs, as quite a few people who were made redundant from other sectors decided they wanted to transfer their skills and work for a non-profit. Moreover due to the cuts in the government overseas aid budget and the fall in public donations, many aid organizations had to reduce the size of their programmes and make a number of staff redundant.

I was one of those unusual people who always had a plan of what I wanted to do! I didn’t always know that it would be specifically humanitarian work but I always knew that it would be something in the international sector. When I was in secondary school at Notre Dame in Churchtown I was very involved with human rights campaigning and that really got me interested in this whole area of international development and humanitarianism. Then I went to study Politics and French in UCD as I thought that having a language would be an asset for this line of work and that politics would also be relevant.

After a volunteer role that turned into a paid position in development education at Suas, I went to University College London to do a master’s degree.  I came back to Ireland to finish my thesis and started working in Trócaire in their humanitarian department as an administrator. Of course my passion was programming so when I got a job on their trainee scheme in Maynooth head office, I jumped at it. After doing that for almost a year, I was itching to spend time working overseas so when a position on their trainee scheme in Islamabad came up, I didn’t hesitate to apply!

In South Sudan, I live with 19 of my colleagues in a shared Oxfam house. I’m the only Irish person. My colleagues come from Portugal, Spain, the UK, the United States- it’s quite a mix. We each have our own bedroom and bathroom but we share a kitchen and living space so it can be quite crazy. Aid work is very full on. You work, live and socialize with your colleagues; it’s a very intensive and definitely not a ‘9 to 5’ job. Thankfully my colleagues are fantastic and we get along really well!

We would all usually work six if not seven days a week. I recently worked for 30 days straight without a break and a number of those were 14-hour days. I was completely exhausted by the end of it. 

Above: Oxfam has been distributing charcoal in the camps in Juba. It is unsafe for the residents of the camp to leave to collect firewood so have been struggling to cook food due to lack of fuel. Photos: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

During a typical day, I get up around 7ish and I arrive to the office at 8.10am. I spend the first few hours catching up on office work, such as signing off on financial requests and budgets, looking at team plans, recruitment, logistics, funding, and working on our programme strategy etc.

Then I usually head to the camps at around 12.30pm, which are around a 30 minute drive away. I manage Oxfam’s humanitarian response in a place called UN House in Juba, which is a UN base and has three big camps in it with 25,000 people who have fled the conflict. As I am the external representative for Oxfam’s response in UN House, I attend coordination meetings with other aid agencies, the UN police and peace-keepers in order to represent Oxfam’s work. There are several of these per week. 

Then I pop in to the camps, check on the activities the team are doing and troubleshoot issues on the spot. This can be anything from supply issues, to queries from the community leaders about our work and selection of beneficiaries. The other day I was out with some of our new charcoal vendors and we went around the camp to map out the site selection of where they were to build their charcoal shops, marking out the site in the mud and with stones- not a very sophisticated way of site-mapping but it did the job!

Every month food distributions take place in the camps over 10 days. At a food distribution, Oxfam provides people with vouchers for charcoal (used as a fuel to cook food) that they can redeem with various vendors who have set up in the camp. We also give people vouchers to use milling machines, so they can mill the grains given to them by the World Food Programme to make flour, etc. Another reason why access to a milling machine is so important is because grain that is unmilled can make small children very sick. If there is a distribution going on that day, we head in early to get set up- usually we arrive at 9am. I help make sure the distribution goes smoothly, everyone receives assistance and the team are kept safe. When you’re out in the camps under the hot sun it can be exhausting. Distributions are particularly hectic due to the volume of people so lunch is always missed!

At around 5pm it could be back to the office where I would be working with the finance and logistics teams making sure we have our supplies in and everyone is being paid, working with the funding team to make sure we are up to date with our donor reporting, and the policy team on any messages that we need to advocate certain stakeholders on. These days a lot of time is spent on recruitment as we’re scaling up our team because the needs are growing even greater and we are now entering in a new phase of our response where we are doing more activities in the camps.

Clockwise from top: The majority of Oxfam staff are locals: Lam Jacob, Susan Angwech, JAcob Achiek, Mayok Ayuen Garang Photos: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

Since December, we have reached 261,000 people at several locations across South Sudan with food, clean water, sanitation, hygiene materials and other essentials from fuel to solar lamps.

Around four million people need urgent humanitarian support now – including 200,000 children suffering severe acute malnutrition. The conflict meant that people couldn’t plant crops earlier this summer and the country is on the brink of a massive food crisis, with a total of 7 million people facing hunger in the months ahead. 

I try to finish up in the office at around 7pm. I then grab a bite to eat back at the house and then it’s back onto the laptop for more emails in the evening. One of the main dominating factors for expats here is the 9pm curfew which is pretty standard among the NGOs. If we do get time to go out after work, we usually have to down our drink and get our food to go as we are always rushing to leave to make sure we are home in time for 9pm! 

All of us working here have security training, access to equipment such as satellite phones, and follow a number of security procedures. When we’re working in the camps we have to be clearly identifiable as working for Oxfam and have our car on standby during distributions in case we have to evacuate from the camps if an incident broke out.

The majority of Oxfam staff are locals. We also have one or two staff members who are among those living in the camps, highly educated people who have like over a million others been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict that broke out in December 2013. It’s great to be able to give people who have been through so much the opportunity to be part of the team and the emergency response work.

There are a lot of people who had good lives before the conflict happened. They had a home with their family, they earned a living, some are highly educated and skilled. Life as they knew it was destroyed when this crisis began. When the fighting broke out they either had to just leave everything behind or else their goods and homes got looted or destroyed so they have nothing to return to. 

I imagine my family home in suburban Dublin and then suddenly military start rolling in, bombs start dropping down on you, and your house and everything you had was destroyed, and you find yourself living in a camp overnight sometimes in cramped conditions and perhaps sharing your tent with total strangers, many not knowing where their family members are. It’s a highly distressing situation for these families.

A lot of people in the camps are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I find sometimes that the kids are a lot more reserved and easily frightened than children from outside of the camps, which is definitely a sign of everything they’ve been through. People are frightened and not considering going home yet because they don’t feel it’s safe. There are a number of threats such as violence, unlawful detention, theft that happens for people who even just leave the camp to go the local market in Juba which can be dangerous if you are from a particular tribe. 

Clockwise from top: Elizabeth and baby Swampy. Elizabeth was heavily pregnant when she fled the conflict in South Sudan, forced to hide and then give birth in a swamp. A water tanker filling up an Oxfam bladder tank. This will supply families living in Mingkaman with clean water. Children wash their hands at an Oxfam health training session Photos: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam
 

The work here is very intense and all-consuming, but at the end of the day that’s also why I’m here. As cheesy as it sounds, I do really believe in what we’re doing here and I believe in the team doing it. I work with some amazing people who are also equally passionate about what we do. It can be quite an inspiring environment to work in.

We get one week off for every 10 weeks in country to help compensate for the intense hours. My plan for next R&R (rest and relaxation) later this month is to go to Ireland and England so I’m very excited about that and I’m going to tag on some annual leave days so I have a two week break in total. There are so many things I’m excited about for my holiday home- of course seeing family and friends are at the top of my list, but also home cooking, brown soda bread, cinema, cocktails and definitely hot showers!

I wouldn’t encourage friends or family to come and visit me here in South Sudan. At the end of the day it’s a conflict zone and I wouldn’t want to put them in a situation they’re not prepared to deal with. 

There are a couple of Irish people here in Juba working for other NGOs, there’s one or two I’ve met and then you hear rumors ‘there’s more Irish people around!’, so I need to try and track them down, in a non-stalker way!

It was nice to have colleagues from Dublin over recently – when you meet another Irish person you automatically have a lot of in-jokes which other nationalities don’t necessarily understand, in terms of slang, the banter, and also references to Father Ted jokes that get lost on other people!

So where to next? I will be here in South Sudan for another several months working on the emergency response with Oxfam and after that it all depends on what opportunities comes up and also where my boyfriend gets posted to next. We will look at somewhere overseas where we can both work like a developing country or else we might go back to London for a few years and then go overseas after that for a while.

At the moment if I could pick anywhere, I would love to work in Palestine – a place I’ve always been interested in and I’m watching what’s going on in Gaza there at the moment- it is something we talk about a lot here in the Oxfam house in South Sudan. Otherwise I love East Africa so ideally I’d like to stay working somewhere near here but at the same time if I do end up in London next for the next few years I’d be very happy with that. It would be nice to be back, closer to home, and have a sense of normality for a while, because it is very intense working out in the field, especially when you are doing postings like Pakistan and South Sudan back-to-back. It might be nice to have more of a normal life and working hours before venturing back out overseas again.

If you'd lke to support our work in South Sudan, please donate online to Oxfam Ireland’s emergency response or visit your local Oxfam shop.

South Sudan: From the Other Side of the War

Jul 9, 2014

Jul Keira Knightley shines spotlight as crisis spirals in South Sudan

9
2014

This week, on the third anniversary of South Sudan’s independence,  actress Keira Knightley has called for support for Oxfam Ireland’s appeal for South Sudan after witnessing first-hand the desperate plight of families struggling to survive.

Here, Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, explains how the humanitarian crisis is spiralling out of control as funds dry up.

Year in and year out the subsistence farmers of South Sudan, the world’s newest state, pray for the timely start of the rainy season. Without it, there is no water for them or their animals to drink, the land hardened by the preceding dry season cannot be cultivated, seeds cannot be sown, nor food produced or surplus food sold for a small profit.

Above: Keira Knightley visits Bor Camp in South Sudan. Upper-left: Keira meets Rebecca age 25 in Bor Camp, South Sudan. Rebecca ran from Bor in December when fighting broke out. She was caught in an ambush, questioned about her husband and beaten. She lost her children but was reunited with them in the camp.One of her children had measles and nearly did not survive. She lost her husband in the April ambush. She is alone and scared of how she will bring up her children without her husband. Lower-right: Keira meets with Nyandow Nhial Khor, 18 years old. With her first child, of two months old Buomkuoth Gatkuotch, who she gave birth to in the camp. The baby is being treated for malaria, which they caught from the water in the camp. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
 

For Elizabeth, who has sought refuge from fighting in a camp for people who are displaced in the northern town of Malakal, the onset of the rains have still greater significance following six months of conflict between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those of his former Vice-President Riek Machar.

Now, many of South Sudan’s well-travelled but unsurfaced roads that form the arteries and veins of the country’s economy are left water logged and largely impassable so stalling, even if peace talks haven’t done so yet, the movement of heavy military equipment and any ambitions either side may have of making new ground.

But while the rains may have quelled the guns somewhat and provided hope of some temporary respite, they have now also served a still further blow to Elizabeth, flooding the meagre shelter she must now call home in the camp. She beckons us over to look more closely…..no easy task as we struggle to travel the short distance through thick sticky mud that threatens to spill over into our boots. Bring wellington boots, they said... fisherman’s waders would have been more appropriate.

Above: Internally displaced people queue inside the camp at UN House in Juba, South Sudan. Oxfam, alongside other agencies, is distributing food and charcoal vouchers for over 13,000 people across a two week period. Photo: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

We make no graceful entrance as our stumbling efforts are met with a mixture of humour and anger, both welcoming of our enthusiasm but anxious that we too should understand what it is to have challenged that most basic of rights, human dignity.

Atop a single spring bed sit under a sagging tarpaulin sheet her two young children clinging on as though cast adrift at sea. Just inches below, the thick grey stagnant water threatens while all around the family’s simple belongings are stacked on whatever objects can stand alone or be combined to raise them above water. It seems more accurate to say not that the house is flooded but that it in effect stands in water. Life incredibly goes on despite everything, but nobody deserves to live like this.

As we stand aghast, we are joined by Elizabeth’s neighbours, all anxious that we should bare testimony to their plight too. The smell they tell us is intolerable, we can only but agree, and we are invited to visit more shelters at which point we realise our feet are stuck and cling on to anything we can to provide leverage. Our humiliation at least is only temporary…

Above: Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland's Humanitarian Manager working in Malakal, South Sudan. Photo: Sorcha Nic Mhathúna / Oxfam

As we leave, adjacent to us, two women and a man hoist their clothing and move thigh deep to higher ground. Ahead of them a small boy has somehow made the same journey carrying his younger sister. Not all are so able bodied or feel sufficiently secure to even consider attempting such a trip especially at night when the risk of attack is great.

This is where thousands just like Elizabeth and her children displaced by the conflict have come for protection by the international community yet to provide more than half of the aid promised to address South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis.

This is where they have come to seek food as a food crisis threatens to turn into a catastrophe affecting some 7 million people.

This is where they have come to wait in safety for news of separated family members.

This is where they have come for hope that soon their political leaders will act in their best interests to provide a swift political solution to end the fighting.

And this is why we at Oxfam are responding to humanitarian needs in South Sudan now and calling for all those with influence to help end this suffering now.

South Sudan: From the Other Side of the War

Posted In:
Jul 8, 2014

Jul We can’t look away from the crisis in South Sudan

8
2014

In a town called Kurmuk, on the eastern border with Ethiopia, I watched on in awe as refugees returned in 2006.

The trauma and hardship these people endured over more than two decades of civil war was replaced with a hope for the future and an overwhelming desire to return to their homeland.

Despite the multiple challenges the refugees knew they faced — a lack of safe clean water or physical infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads — I saw in them phenomenal strength and personal courage as they embraced rebuilding their land and their lives in their broken country.

It is devastating to witness yet again so many forced to flee their homes amid increasing conflict and disease in the region. South Sudan has experienced just three years of independence and already the seeds of hope sown then have turned to despair in the aftermath of violence that erupted last December.

The situation in South Sudan, the world’s newest country but where so many live in poverty, has gone beyond the forewarned tipping point, with its people now facing certain catastrophe in the months ahead.

The recent bloody conflict has left millions dependent on food aid to survive. Four million people are at risk of severe hunger. This is a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions.

Above: Families arriving in Mingkaman after fleeing violence. Photos: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/Oxfam

Over 1.5m people have been forced to flee their homes, often with just the clothes on their backs, leaving behind what meagre possessions they had with no means to get food, water or other vital essentials.

Over 392,000 of refugees have fled to neighbouring countries of Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan lending to increased risk of regional insecurity as the spread of localised conflict in the Middle East has demonstrated.

In camps for those displaced, people are living in atrocious conditions and walking knee deep in mud and water. Poor sanitation has already taken many lives through the spread of cholera and other diseases, ever increasing with the seasonal heavy rains.

Now, many of South Sudan’s well-travelled but unsurfaced roads that form the arteries and veins of the country’s economy are left water logged and largely impassable.

The conflict has prevented people from planting seeds in time for harvest before the rains. Because of this, access to food will deteriorate even further, as access by aid agencies decreases and the risk of new peaks in fighting rise.

Oxfam is reaching out to thousands of vulnerable people with food and water but there are thousands more who need our help. We will be staring into an abyss if funds do not start arriving soon.

Clockwise from top: 7 tonnes of Oxfam aid arrives in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Grace Cahill/Oxfam Oxfam is helping to purify 1m litres of water a day Photo: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/Oxfam Martha Yandt receives food at a distribution. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

It is disappointing that while many nations pushed for and supported South Sudan’s independence from Sudan, little commitment is forthcoming from the international community in the form of aid.

The people of South Sudan need an end to the fighting, but with peace talks stalled, there is little hope of a swift end to the conflict.

We need to see a surge in the capacity of the response, which is very much dependent on funding. There must be a scaling-up of the activities of the international community to respond to this crisis.

A recent presentation by Irish aid agencies to the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee resulted in cross party political acknowledgement of the scale of need in South Sudan and earnest commitment to supporting a peaceful resolution.

The international community can mirror Ireland’s diligence by increasing its diplomatic pressure on the two protagonists of the conflict, facilitating efforts to keep the situation in South Sudan on the international agenda, delivering on pledged funds to the UN appeal and deploying UN peacekeeping troops within capacity. It absolutely cannot resolve itself of responsibility.

Despite the flagging interest of news agencies, the conflict in South Sudan has not abated. The scenes of devastation may have become less visible but the suffering does not end.

The UN has warned that the worst hit areas are at risk of impending famine. We have a chance to act now to avoid the “Forgotten Crisis” becoming a crisis we cannot forget.

We need a massive and rapid global surge in aid. For the sake of our common humanity we cannot, we should not, look away at this time of crisis. Action must be taken now. The tide is already against us.

Jim Clarken is Oxfam Ireland’s CEO

South Sudan: From the Other Side of the War

Jun 26, 2014

Jun South Sudan's hope for a peaceful future

26
2014

30-year-old Nyoruop Puk has been a resident of the UN House refugee camp in Juba, South Sudan, after conflict broke out in December 2013. 

Since then at least 10,000 people have lost their lives and more than a million people have been forced from their homes, while the number of South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries has risen to over 360,000. In total, 4.9 million people now need urgent humanitarian support. 

Nyoruop is balancing a large sisal sack on her head. It contains grain that will feed her family. She hands a voucher to the charcoal vendors and smiles, waiting patiently for them to give her the bags of charcoal equivalent to that voucher, which has been provided by Oxfam. 

Above: Nyoruop Puk, carrying a sack of grain. Photo: Mackenzie Knowles Coursin/Oxfam

Nyoruop continued: “I came here to protect myself and my family. When my we heard about the fighting, we knew that we had to leave so that we are not targeted. I was nine months pregnant at that time.”

She was not only running for her life, but for the unborn baby she was bringing into the world. 

“We had to walk to UN House first before thinking about anything else. After arriving here, we found a space and were given things like canvas sheets, some food and also water.”

Nyoruop gave birth the next day. It was as if the baby knew that it was safe to leave the comfort of his mother’s womb. It did not matter whether it was at home or at the UN House. Events as big as the one that occurred in Juba are not enough to stop nature’s course. 

“It was difficult but my friend Nyapeth Khor located the health workers and they helped me deliver my baby. He is healthy and doing well.”

After Nyruop receives the charcoal, she walks briskly to her tent in block four of the UN House compound. Waiting for her are her new born baby and her sisters, visibly excited to see her. She reaches for the heavy load on her head and lays it down on the ground, at the same time she sets down the bags of charcoal. It’s time to prepare lunch. She sits down and reflects on her life when canvas sheets were not her home. 

“We came here together and six of us share this tent. It’s very hot and we’re grateful that we at least have some kind of roof over our head. I used to live with three of my sisters in Kor Williams in Juba, Nyabok Madit, Martha Nyalam and Mary Nyalong. My sister, Martha Nyalam, has one child, and I have another. 

Clockwise from top: Ayak Majok, 20, carries home water from an Oxfam water point in Mingkaman settlement. Photo by Mackenzie Knowles Coursin/Oxfam Firewood is becoming more scarce in Mingkamen camp, Awerial County, South Sudan. Photo: Oxfam/Aimee Brown Oxfam staff distribute vouchers to be exchanged for charcoal at UN House. Credit: Oxfam/Aimee Brown 
 

With the help of her sisters, Nyruop gets the fire going. Dying embers on a metal stove near the tent are revived as she adds fresh charcoal and blows the flames to life. The first steps to preparing today’s lunch, yellow lentils. Although a very limited meal, it keeps her family nourished through the day. However, it’s not a sustainable and a healthy option. 

“I am happy that organisations are supporting us but grains are not enough for a healthy meal. We also need some vegetables and some meat if possible,” she says. 

“The charcoal vouchers provided by Oxfam really help. Before that, we had to walk outside to fetch firewood and that could take time and could also be risky. Old people, if they did not have help, would struggle to fetch wood. Some would not go and collect at all because they were too old and could not do it. Now that it’s close by and quite easy to get, it’s really relieved some of the stress. Cooking or boiling water has become easier.”

Finding safe water to drink was also challenging when they arrived. Before Oxfam set up its water supply system, clean water for cooking and drinking had to be bought. Sanitation was poor as organisations were scrambling to respond to the situation. This paid off because Nyoruop and her family now have unlimited access to clean water and sanitation facilities. 

“There is a water point close to our tent and also latrines and bathrooms. We feel safe in here.

Clockwise from top: Oxfam is helping to purify 1m litres of water a day. Photo: Oxfam/Aimee Brown. As a public health promoter for Oxfam in Mingkamen camp, Martha Nyandeng teaches children how to use latrines and properly wash their hands. Martha escaped from Bor with no savings or possessions, but the small amount she earns as a public health promoter with Oxfam means she has enough to buy food for her children. Photo: Oxfam/Aimee Brown. Mary Ajak Maluk shares her thoughts with Oxfam staff during a community meeting in Mingkaman. Oxfam regularly holds meetings with community members in order to better understand what’s working well and what needs to be improved. Photo by Mackenzie Knowles Coursin/Oxfam
 

Leaving her home behind was a painful experience for Nyoruop and the rainy season is now bringing additional problems. “This house will not protect us from the rains. The material itself is not strong enough to shield us. We sleep on mats on the ground, so the water flowing on the ground is terrible, especially for my new born child and the other children in the camp,” she says. 

The effects of the conflict have been devastating for many families in South Sudan. Nyoruop and her family now live in a small makeshift tent in an overcrowded, squalid camp where poor sanitation increases the risk of disease. Although it’s temporary, she does not know how long they will have to stay.

“I don’t know what caused the fighting, so I don’t know what will end it. I just hope it ends soon. I would prefer to be at home – but not in Juba. My only hope is to go back home to Unity where we’re from and where my husband is. I will feel the safest there.”

Our Humanitarian Manager, Colm Byrne, on Morning Ireland

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