Situation in South Sudan devastating: Interview from the field

August 12, 2014

The current conflict and food crisis in South Sudan has been described as the worst in the world by the United Nations. Caritas Internationalis (CI) launched an appeal to its members worldwide to support emergency relief programs in the country. Development and Peace is supporting this appeal and working with Caritas South Sudan in bringing aid to the most vulnerable. In this interview, John Coughlin and Kasina Faith, both members of CI’s Emergency Response Team, provide an account of what is happening on the ground.

1. Can you describe the conditions and challenges faced by the population?

The situation on the ground is devastating. Presently, over 1 million people have been forced from their homes and now live in often congested camps with little access to enough food, clean water to drink, shelter and medicine. There are 400,000 more people who are living as refugees in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Most of these displaced families are still caught up in areas that are difficult for humanitarian workers to access due to ongoing tensions and fighting. The current rainy season compounds the situation as most roads are impassable, which makes the transportation of humanitarian supplies difficult. The rains have also led to the outbreak of cholera in many parts of the country. To date, over 5,000 cholera cases and 106 deaths have been reported. There is a strong risk of famine especially in the conflict-affected states in the north as most people are held up in displacement camps and cannot access their farms to cultivate.

2. What are the most urgent needs right now?
The most urgent needs are food, water, shelter and medicine for the conflict-affected families. Most importantly, there needs to be an immediate halt to all military action, but especially in civilian areas, to allow safe access for humanitarian workers so they can reach vulnerable populations.

3. How do you see the coming months evolving?

If the parties involved in the conflict are unable to reach a political solution soon, fighting will escalate and many more lives will be lost and people displaced. Additionally, farmers will be unable to take advantage of the few remaining weeks of rain, deteriorating the already dire food situation for an estimated 4 million people by the end of the year.

4. What is needed for the situation to improve?

Military action, particularly in civilian areas, needs to cease. Guns need to be silenced so that people feel safe enough to go back to their homes and rebuild their lives. Humanitarian workers need to have safe access to vulnerable populations in order to deliver much needed assistance and save lives. In addition, donor governments and institutions need to continue their funding, and increase it, so that humanitarian agencies are able to execute their responses effectively.

5. How are the members of Caritas responding?

So far, Caritas has distributed non-food items (shelter and hygiene materials) to 15,000 households in different parts of the country. Additionally, 10,000 households have received food items such as cooking oil, maize flour and sugar. In response to the rising cholera cases, Caritas continues to distribute water purification tablets to ensure families only use clean water, and it is raising awareness on good hygiene practices within the displacement camps.