Delivering food to save lives in South Sudan
It’s early-morning as dozens of internally displaced people has started to turn up in the modest township of New Fangak in Jonglei. They are assembling here to receive food assistance delivered to them by the World Food Programme (WFP) in partnership with Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).
Written by Tamama Norbert
For four days scores of men and women has worked arduously, to offload the food from a towering WFP-hired barge, which had arrived from Bor town, and docked at the riverbank, less than a kilometer away from the confluence, where the Phow River merged with the main water body-the White Nile River.
Finally the distribution kicked-off with a large number of beneficiaries turning up on the first day. Over 90% of them were women, occasionally accompanied by teenage children.
The men were rarely seen at the scene. Some did come but stood at a distance, watching the exercise in silence. The women did the talking as they had their food cards certified by the NPA field staff conducting the distribution
From morning to late afternoon, the exercise proceeded, uninterrupted. On the third day, people were everywhere and the banks of the Phow River, a stone throw away, teemed with motorboats and canoes, parked, docked and ready to ship food home.
Fled four years ago
I glanced at the motorboats in amusement. One piloted by a dreadlocked lad, flapped the banner of the Spanish football club Barcelona. The boat looked locally built with a rugged metallic body and a seemingly powerful outboard power engine. It’s commonly used for river transport, as there is virtually no road network linking New and Old Fangak towns.
I joked with one of the NPA team about the possibility of lunch. He said: “When we start this work we don’t have time for lunch. We shall think about that later” he chuckled, as he shifted his attention to attend to an elderly woman with failing eyesight.
“My team members are committed to their work” said Chot Yak, NPA’s field monitor, based in the area. “Most of them have been doing this work since 2014” he gestured, before leaping forward to help a lady lift a sack of cereals on her head.
Many of the displaced come from the Nuer people and they share a common language and cultural heritage with the host community.
“Most of the beneficiaries have been living here for over four years now” Chot explains. “They are composed of people who fled from various areas in the country. Some came from like Malakal, Kaldak, Khorflus, the former Unity states and Juba, he says.
In the early days of the displacement, the most vulnerable people ate wild foods including leaves and fruits for subsistence. But things soon changed for the better when WFP in partnership with NPA started delivering food assistance in the area in 2014.
The displaced live mostly among the host communities where they have been allocated pieces of land to put shelter. Some live on cultivable stretches of land along the banks of the Phow River, giving them enough space to graze their cattle.
The internally displaced people still depend chiefly on food assistance. Finding alternate sources of nutrition and income is difficult considering the circumstances. Decimal access to social services corroborates the state of affairs, as the people rely on river water for their needs and have minimal access to health services
Although households do practice subsistence farming, they do so just around around their homestead.
Hope and resilience
On my last day in New Fangak, as we walked to the NPA speedboat docked at the river bank, we passed through the food distribution point once more. Just the previous day, the site was filled to capacity, but it’s now deserted with the exceptions of a handful men clearing the area of broken pieces of boxes.
The WFP and NPA flags, which flew informationally at the site, just hours ago, have since been safely tucked away, awaiting the next food distribution.
As the speedboat sped away, towards Old Fangak, I thought, I could describe the believes and feelings of the community here in two words: Hope and resilience. For, nearly all the individuals I had the chance to interact with, the past 10 days, all displayed an aura of unwavering hope for the return of peace in their country so that they can embark on the long-journey of rebuilding their future and enjoy the goodness of life again.
Mary Nyadak is a 30 years old mother of three. She is one of many internally displaced persons living in Old Fangak. She fled amidst gunfire that rocked Malakal town, the state capital of the then Upper Nile Region, which served as a gateway to the oilfields
“When the fighting started in Malakal, I ran with my family to the riverbank and eventually we made our way to Old Fangak were we arrived several weeks later” said Nyadak, as she nursed a her baby in front of her makeshift shelter, located about 300 meters away from the riverbank
Nyadak and her young family have lived here since 2015. Like majority of the IDP’s, they, rely majorly on emergency food assistance.
“The food we have been receiving has helped us a lot. Without this support, life would have been hard for us. So we are grateful” she said.
In spite of all the odds, the population here have high hopes of the return of relative peace and security to enable them to return to their areas of origin. Nyadak thinks this could happen soon, in the near future. For now, she is grateful to the WFP and NPA for the support and called upon donors to continue helping the beneficiaries until a durable solution is found for the internally displaced people.
The last five years, Nyadoar Boya has lived in Old Fangak. Before seeking shelter here, Nyadoar resided in Malakal, but she had to flee when fighting broke out.
“Old Fangak is my original home village but I lived mostly in Malakal. I had to return to Old Fangak when the fighting broke out in 2014” said the 28 year old mother of eight, as two of her young children joined her on a mat, and listened quietly to our conversion.
Like the majority of the internally displaced people, Nyadoar fled almost empty-handed, having lost much her household properties during the conflict. “When I arrived here, I was allocated a piece of land within the host community and since that time I have been living here with my family” she explained, in the Nuer dialect.
“It’s not easy to live in displacement” she lamented. “When we arrived here, we had no food to eat”. In the early days of the displacement, the most vulnerable people ate wild foods including leaves and fruits for subsistence.
She said her family currently survives exclusively on the food assistance distributed by The Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP).
“I call upon NPA and WFP to continue helping us as we wait for the return of peace and security so that we can return home” she concluded.