Families return to a humanitarian crisis in South Sudan

Families returning to newly independent South Sudan face a dire humanitarian crisis. You can help us save lives.

By Joyce Mulama. Edited by Peter Warski, World Vision U.S.
Published July 15, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

After many years in Sudan's capital city of Khartoum, Rebecca Achol Bol, 25, was originally excited about returning home to South Sudan.

A January referendum created independence for that region, and as of July, it is the world's newest country, ending a long-standing conflict between the North and South.

Though aware that her native land had been devastated by decades of civil war, she did not expect that she would be homeless upon arriving home at the start of the year. When she voluntarily returned, her hopes were dashed.

No resources, no source of livelihood

"I hoped for something better," says Rebecca. "Now, we don't even have a place to sleep. The children are out in the cold, constantly coughing."

Rebecca traveled with her two children, Boana and Monica. The family now lives at a returnees camp about 350 miles from the South Sudanese capital of Juba.

"I expected the place to have at least some basic facilities," she says. "With no work, how will I care for my children? At least in Khartoum, I was doing some small business, [and] healthcare and education were provided."

'Here, there are many problems'

At this camp in South Sudan, many returning families live and sleep outside, without any proper shelter or other essentials. Photo: ©2011 Joyce Mulama/World Vision

At just 7, her son, Boana, can feel the strain of the dilapidated infrastructure in the South. He is constantly pushing his mother to take him back to Khartoum.

"Here, there are many problems," says the boy. "I am not attending school, and there is little to eat. I get sick often because of sleeping in the open; there are a lot of mosquitoes, and they bite me all night."

Some 250,000 already have come back to South Sudan, most of them from the North. The United Nations expects tha number to double, placing additional pressure on an already-fragile humanitarian situation.

Recipe for disaster

Returnees like Rebecca and her children are staying in camps as they wait for land allocations by the government. In the meantime, living conditions are deplorable. Most basic services are inaccessible, including proper shelter, clean water, and sanitation.

Healthcare, too, is woefully inadequate. The one clinic in the area where Rebecca and her children now live sees about 200 patients a day. Benjamin Akon, the clinic's only officer, says most of the cases are related to diarrhea.

"There is no clean water in the area," he says. "There are only three pit latrines serving the whole community, and so open defecation is common."

Upcoming months critical

Benjamin Akon examines a patient at the health clinic. He says that cases of diarrhea are most common because of the lack of adequate sanitation in the area. Photo: ©2011 Joyce Mulama/World VisionIndeed, as one walks around the area, it's impossible to escape the site of bags containing human waste. Especially during the rainy season, this will become a serious health hazard. But it's not the only one.

"Most returnees here risk catching pneumonia, especially children," says Mareng Akol, assistant relief officer for World Vision in South Sudan. "Already, there have been several such cases in the past few months. It is important that permanent structures be constructed before the start of the rains."

With so many more families expected to return to South Sudan in the next several months, World Vision is responding with assistance for those who lack essentials, like Rebecca and her children, Boana and Monica.

Two ways you can help

Please pray for children and families like Rebecca and her son and daughter, who are returning to South Sudan following years of conflict and the January referendum that created independence for that region. Pray for those who lack essentials in a place where the humanitarian conditions were severe even before the influx of returning people.

Make a one-time gift to World Vision's Sudan Relief Fund. Your donation will help us deliver life-saving assistance, such as food, clean water, healthcare, shelter, and more to children and families suffering from extreme poverty in this region.