South Sudan: Intervention Critical for IDPs Before Long Rainy Season Begins
Interview with LWF Country Program Coordinator Lokiru Matendo
(LWI) - The conflict that started in South Sudan in mid-December 2013 has either wiped out completely or reduced significantly the gains that households had made in rebuilding livelihoods, strengthening their food security, community organization and promoting children’s access to education, says Mr Lokiru Matendo, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) program coordinator in South Sudan. In an interview with Lutheran World Information (LWI), Matendo explains LWF’s immediate response and the urgency to support internally displaced persons (IDPS) before the long rainy season sets in.
What is the current focus of LWF’s response inside South Sudan?
Before the current crisis, LWF South Sudan was consolidating its work among locals including returnees (former refugees and internally displaced persons ) in rebuilding livelihoods in Twic East and Duk counties in Jonglei State. Within a short time, the communities had to flee in order to save their lives. LWF in turn had to suspend long-term development work, risking the loss of remarkable progress made over the years in order to deliver life-saving and urgent emergency response. We are now supporting families who once again find themselves as IDPs [internally displaced persons], without certainty about when they might return home.
What does LWF’s assistance entail?
The crisis erupted unexpectedly and people fled their homes without carrying any food, clothes or other basic necessities. In Twic East, Duk and Bor counties, we are providing IDPs with immediate non-food items including sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking and serving utensils, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kits. As houses were destroyed or burnt down, most people are forced to live in temporary shelters or with relatives or friends. Others are hiding in the bushes along the River Nile, and rely on untreated water from swamps and rivers. LWF therefore provides water treatment tablets to purify drinking water. Plans are underway to repair damaged boreholes and hand pumps to enable more affected households to access safe water.
In the current emergency phase, what do you see as the main challenges?
IDPs are afraid to return as most of their homes were burnt down, including crops that had been harvested. Many people lost loved ones too, survived with severe injuries and experienced trauma, yet fighting continues.
Among the displaced people, there is a great sense of anticipation and frustration about starting all over again. We are talking of communities with whom we have been working since 2005 after decades as refugees or IDPs. They had returned with skills and other experiences from exile and LWF had accompanied them on a journey of recovery by rebuilding livelihoods, and strengthening disaster preparedness capacities but all these gains are now severely threatened. In spite of this turn of events, LWF will continue to work with the South Sudanese population and build on their resilience and strong will and hope to rise up and overcome crises.
Can you mention some examples of the gains lost?
In Twic East and Duk counties community members had established over 80 village savings and loans associations (VSLA) or groups that supported many families to buy food, pay for their children’s education, health care, and even open up small-scale businesses that boosted their self-reliance.
With the conflict, the money they had saved is what they used to hire cars or boats to ferry them to safety inside South Sudan or into neighboring countries. Years of networking and savings, individual and small-scale community projects have suffered a major setback. Even when peace returns, it will take a considerably long time to mobilize communities whose vulnerability has been increased by the loss of valuable livelihood assets.
Besides providing much needed support to those displaced, what are some of the most urgent priorities now?
In two months’ time (mid-May) the rainy season will start—heavy rainfall and flooding until mid-October. Therefore, IDPs’ assistance or resettlement before this period is critical, as moving people or goods becomes risky, costly or simply impossible in the absence of all-weather roads in most places.
Some of the gains communities had made included the establishment of community flood task forces to mobilize people to repair damaged sections of a 34 km-long dyke to prevent the Nile river flooding from devastating settlements, farm and grazing lands. This was evident in October 2013: had it not been for coordinated repairs to sections of the dyke in Twic East county, water from the White Nile would have inundated the plains below and thousands of families would have been displaced. Fishing in the protective dykes also provided an alternative livelihood to growing sorghum and other food crops.
Schooling has also been disrupted as most public schools in the conflict-affected areas could not resume classes at the beginning of the academic year in February. LWF support in this emergency phase will include the supply of learning and teaching materials for both students and teachers.
Displaced persons will also receive gardening tools to clear out bushes in the settlement grounds or in the host communities, seeds for planting, as well as fishing tools.
LWF targets 15,000 households in Bor, Twic East, Duk and Uror counties with immediate assistance as well as initial recovery support during the crisis period.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 705,000 people had been displaced inside South Sudan by 3 March, and 202,500 had fled into neighboring countries.