South Sudan: Living conditions worsen sharply amid ever more pressing food needs
GENEVA, Switzerland, June 12, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- To counter growing food insecurity, the ICRC and the South Sudan Red Cross have provided food supplies for around 250,000 people since the beginning of the crisis.
"The humanitarian situation is dire and could further deteriorate now that the rainy season has arrived. The rains disrupt the delivery of aid because roads become impassable and aircraft landing strips can turn to mud," said François Moreillon, deputy head of the ICRC delegation in South Sudan. "If security conditions in the country do not improve, and if access remains a problem, the food insecurity we are currently facing could be exacerbated and drag on for much longer."
Food has been distributed in Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile, Warrap, Jonglei, and Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal states. Since May, the ICRC has been using airdrops to bring in large quantities of food, seed and other essential aid. Staff on the ground are assessing needs and making the necessary preparations to take delivery of the aid being dropped at various sites. "Together with South Sudan Red Cross volunteers and the local community, they make sure that the aid is distributed fairly to those who need it most," explained Mr Moreillon. The last time the ICRC used airdrops to deliver aid was in 1997, in northern Afghanistan.
Tens of thousands of people in Leer county, in the north of the country, have just received food and seed. Nymal (not her real name) is a widow with eight children. Her village, not far from a drop zone, was almost completely destroyed in the fighting. "It breaks my heart to see the destruction here," she said. "It will take a long time to rebuild everything that was destroyed. We are suffering because of the lack of food and medical care. I will give what I have received to my children." Her situation is similar to that of many people in the area. Nykouth (not her real name), the mother of six children, had to flee her home when she heard gunfire. Some weeks later, when she returned, she found her house burnt to the ground. Now she lives with her family under a tree. This is not the first time that she has seen violence in her town, but it is the first time that the destruction has been so extensive. "What happened this year is different," she said. "My kids will be so happy to see me bringing food home today."
"We are stepping up our food assistance in that area because it has one of the highest concentrations of displaced people, with many coming from Mayendit, Bentiu, Malakal and Koch, as well as the returnees from within Leer county itself," said Mr Moreillon. "We are focusing our efforts on the most isolated parts of the country, which have the least access to markets and the greatest concerns in terms of food security."
According to Asma Khaliq Awan, an ICRC relief coordinator, the situation is very serious. "It's heart-wrenching to see children storm into the drop zone and desperately pick up grains of sorghum left scattered on the ground after each distribution. It also speaks volumes about the problems in Leer." People who still have livestock are slaughtering them rampantly and generally have no seed reserves to plant. In a normal year, they would expect to harvest produce in October and November.
A total of 294 metric tonnes of food for around 40,000 people and 60 metric tonnes of sorghum, okra, pumpkin, maize and cowpea seed have so far been airdropped to mitigate food insecurity and support the cultivation of crops during the planting season. Ground teams from the ICRC and the South Sudan Red Cross in Leer distribute the food and seed to people registered to receive it.
The ICRC is constantly reminding the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law. "We stress the obligation to grant unhindered access to humanitarian and medical workers and to show due respect for civilians and people who are wounded, sick, detained or surrendering," said Mr Moreillon. The ICRC welcomes any initiative that may improve the security environment and allow people to grow food and obtain improved access to basic services.
Since the beginning of the latest emergency, in mid-December, in close cooperation with the South Sudan Red Cross the ICRC has:
• performed almost 2,000 operations in 12 local health facilities, and provided medical supplies for 34 first-aid and other health-care facilities, as well as wound-dressing materials used in more than 5,000 cases by South Sudan Red Cross volunteers;
• provided clean water for 230,000 people in displaced and other conflict-affected communities as well as in health and detention facilities in various parts of the country;
• provided tents, cooking utensils and tarpaulins as emergency shelter for around 400,000 displaced people around the country;
• visited more than 4,000 people held in various places of detention;
• arranged for around 10,000 phone calls to be made from various camps to enable displaced people to contact family members.