While the crisis is pushing the country towards a hunger catastrophe, WFP and partners race to expand food assistance to reach communities living in very remote and hard to reach areas. Words and photos from Jackie Dent
KOCH – Under the harsh sun on the edge of a swamp, thousands of people wait desperately for their food rations.
An old woman lies in the thick mud chewing on wild grass, while another rubs her stomach in hunger, worried she will throw up if she finally eats. Dozens upon dozens of women stand quietly with wicker baskets on their heads, their babies sleeping and crying inside.
While many wait patiently with their ration cards in hand, some are simply too ill to move. One young woman lies in a patch of shade, crying.
Cut off by conflict and seasonal rains that have made roads virtually impassable, it is the first time aid has reached the desperate people of Koch County since fighting broke out in December.
Even before the war, Koch was considered one of the most food-insecure areas of the country. Now, it is also hosting thousands of people displaced by fighting and facing shocking levels of hunger.
Many tukul homes have been burned in the fighting, and people have taken to living in the bush and surviving on wild grasses and vegetables. Women report being raped and assaulted as they walk through dangerous areas in search of food. The town market has little for sale, and graffiti covers the wall of a small, abandoned medical clinic.
In response to these appalling circumstances, a team of emergency workers and supplies had flown into Koch town a few days earlier to provide urgent assistance. Planes air-dropped bags of cereals and pulses, and helicopters delivered cans of vegetable oil and highly nutritious blended foods for small children. Humanitarians from WFP, UNICEF and the NGO World Relief hit the ground and began assessing and registering people, setting up a food distribution site and treating children who suffer from malnutrition.
Standing in line is Peter Mamouk, a visibly emaciated elderly man with only one eye who is among the 21,000 people who have registered for food. When the fighting began, the aged farmer was separated from his wife and nine children, who are now in a camp for internally displaced people in Bentiu, a city which has seen some of the biggest battles in South Sudan. Peter fled for his life, leaving his home and possessions behind, and has been unable to grow any crops.
Because of this war, we have no food.This year things have become very difficult"“Because of this war, we have no food,” he says. “This year things have become very difficult.”
Expanding Emergency Response
But Koch is not alone in needing this urgent help. With ongoing concerns about the looming hunger catastrophe across South Sudan, WFP and its partners are expanding their rapid response teams. There are currently 50 staff operating in five other locations, focusing on the conflict-affected states of Jonglei, Unity and the Upper Nile. So far, emergency teams have reached 28 remote areas, and new ones are being assembled to reach still more.
Funding this enormous, complex emergency response remains a major challenge, says WFP Country Director Joyce Luma.
“We urgently need funds and partners to be able to expand coverage and establish a fixed presence in remote areas to support food and nutrition activities if we are to have any chance of avoiding an impending disaster,” Luma warns.