As a protection advisor for WFP in South Sudan, Marika Guderian frequently travels to remote rural locations with mobile response teams who are at the frontline of delivering food assistance to conflict affected populations in the country. She tells us about her recent trip to Ulang town in Upper Nile State where the population has been affected by the conflict.
Once Ulang was a vibrant market town, connected by river and road to Ethiopia. Many public services were provided such as health, education and livelihood support to farmers in the region. When we arrived in October, we walked through a near empty town. Most people had fled across the River Sobat into neighboring Ethiopia to seek refuge when fighting erupted here over 10 months ago. Grass has grown over abandoned tukuls (houses) and many are falling apart as the owners have not returned. Cars and motor cycles were left behind. Maize and pumpkins continue to grow in private gardens but there isno one to harvest them.
I met with the local Women’s Association and conducted household visits to vulnerable people to understand how they cope with the situation, including separated or unaccompanied minors and orphans, the elderly, the physically impaired and the sick. Many expressed concerns about their safety and security but said they were compelled to return to Ulang town because they have no food or shelter on the other side of the Sobat River where they had sought refuge.
“We just have to eat grass and water lilies,” a mother of five children told me when I asked her how she copes without food assistance. Her husband was killed in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State.
It becomes apparent when I travel to these conflict affected locations that the people suffer tremendously having lost everything – their loved ones, their homes and belongings. The conditions are so dire and the stories from people are usually so heart-wrenching that the reflex action is to immediately start dishing out help. However, it is paramount that we consider protection and gender in the planning and implementation of food assistance delivery in order not to cause more harm in our effort to provide help. Some activities such as the creation of shades for women and their children and the provision of water to people waiting to be served may seem very minor but are important.
During the rainy season, many face severe challenges to reach the distribution points crossing rivers and swampy areas. After consulting with the people, WFP set up two registration and food distribution points – one in Ulang town for those who had returned and the other in Nyangore across the river where most people had sought refuge. The local Women’s Association representatives helped us prioritize vulnerable individuals during the registration and food distribution. We also provided information on the procedures and their entitlements.
In our work as humanitarians, it is instinctive to help people but it is extremely important that we deliver assistance in a dignified and safe manner that understands beneficiaries as a rights holder rather than a recipient of aid.
Story by Marika Guderian, WFP South Sudan