"We feel safe here," says Labakal Kalahin, an exhausted mother of four who lost one of her children while fleeing to the village of Pibor from the fighting which erupted late last year in South Sudan’s Jonglei State. She’s among tens of thousands of people driven from their homes by the fighting whom WFP is now moving to assist with food and basic necessities.
Gumruk/Pibor - “We came here to look for food. Our survival will depend on what we could get from you today,” said Akuer Allan, who together with her husband Koko has joined thousands of people who took refuge in the bush when their villages where attacked in the recent spate of inter-communal violence in South Sudan’s Jonglei state.
“We walked for two days and two nights. We are both old, and it was hard for us to run as the younger ones did,” explained Allan after arriving in Gumruk, where the couple received emergency food rations from WFP.
A dangerous journey
WFP has been providing emergency food assistance to tens of thousands of displaced people in Jonglei, most of whom spent arduous days in the bush seeking both safety and help.
To cope with hunger on their journey, Akuer and Koko ate lalop, a local fruit popularly known as a “desert date,” which grows abundantly in parts of South Sudan.
“We are very lucky as this is the season of lalop and we found several lalop trees on our way to Gumruk,” added Akuer’s husband Koko, who also lost all of his cattle.
The couple came from Tanyang, a village some 20 kilometers away from Gumruk.
Another town that has become host to tens of thousands of displaced people is Pibor, about 40 kilometers northeast of Gumruk.
"I lost one of my children"
Pibor is where Labakal Kalahin, or Likanyi as she is called, sat patiently with her four daughters while waiting for her name to be called by a volunteer from South Sudan Red Cross, which is assisting WFP in distributing a 15-day emergency food ration.
“The enemies came to attack us. We had no choice but to flee. We walked for seven days,” explained Likanyi as she recounted the grueling days and nights that she and her daughters had been through when their village in Likuangole was attacked.
“I lost my one of my children. We feel safe here in Pibor,” she said.
“Now that people are starting to come out of the bush and are in places where we can reach them, we are in a better position to respond to their needs,” said WFP South Sudan Country Director Chris Nikoi who visited Gumruk and Pibor and saw for himself thousands of displaced people needing food assistance.
Nikoi noted that WFP has been moving much-needed food assistance to Boma, Gumruk and Pibor where tens of thousands of displaced people have temporarily sought reuge.
“We want to respond to their needs as quickly as possible,” said Nikoi.
Responding as quickly as possible could prove difficult in a country like South Sudan where road access is severely limited.
“We need to raise some US$5 million to get additional helicopters that we can use to airlift more food and other humanitarian aid into remote areas that cannot be reached by roads,” explained Nikoi.
Nikoi is deeply concerned that the ongoing inter-communal conflict in Jonglei will restrict humanitarian access to the region while at the same time greatly increasing the number of people who need humanitarian assistance.
South Sudan is one of WFP’s most complex operations. The agency is scaling up its response in 2012 to reach 2.7 million food insecure and conflict-affected people. The agency needs US$ 252 million to support its food assistance operations in the worlds’ newest country, and currently has a shortfall of $162 million.