Interview: “Peace must prevail for the country to emerge from this crisis”

Published: 10 February 2014 22:30 CET

Violence broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes with thousands fleeing to neighbouring countries. What is the South Sudan Red Cross doing to assist those affected by this conflict?

The National Society has been involved in a range of activities since the onset of the conflict. First, we have been offering emergency first aid services, evacuating the wounded and supporting operations in hospitals. In Malakal, 20 volunteers and one staff member have been working in the hospital since the conflict broke out. We have other teams of volunteers and staff in Leer providing services including emergency first aid as well as distribution of non-food items and shelter materials.

We have also been providing water services in a displaced persons camp in Juba that is currently hosting about 27,000 people. Our volunteers manage the distribution of water to these people daily. Alongside other organizations, the South Sudan Red Cross is supplying water to one third of the camp population. The commissioning of the new water facility will extend outreach to almost all of those living in the camp.

The society has also been undertaking hygiene promotion activities in internally displaced persons camps in Juba as well as in Awerial county where those displaced from Bor are currently staying. Together with the International Committee of the Red Cross, we are undertaking a major relief operation in Awerial county, providing non-food items and shelter materials and distributing food.

During crises like these, families are often separated, so our teams have been working on restoring family links in both Juba and Awerial county.

What are the main concerns in terms of needs for those affected?

The major concern lies with the people being displaced. Hundreds of thousands are already displaced. If the violence continues, it could lead to further displacements. The other concern is in terms of resources to meet shelter, medical, water, food and basic household needs. Only a portion of those affected have received assistance.

What is the health situation like? Are there any reports of disease outbreak?

There have not been any major reports of disease outbreak. However, it will take time for security to be restored and within the next two to three months, those living in the camps will be affected by the rains.

The threat of malaria and waterborne diseases is high during the rainy season. The current support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies that includes hygiene promotion, will be helpful in preparing people to avert a crisis. Still a lot needs to be done in terms of outreach and allocation of resources to reach the population across the country.

The recent polio campaign that was held towards the end of 2013 was timely and this will help to contain the spread of the disease that is already affecting neighbouring countries.

How would you rate the humanitarian response to the current crisis in South Sudan?

So far, about 40 per cent of those displaced are reported to have been assisted. There still needs to be concerted efforts in place to support those not yet reached. There are challenges with limited access to certain areas because of security concerns and lack of resources. In addition, appeals by international organizations are facing competition from other global disasters. If there is inadequate response, thousands of people will go unassisted.

The South Sudan Red Cross is the youngest National Society of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, with a growing volunteer base. How many volunteers are involved in this emergency operation?

The South Sudan Red Cross has 2,000 volunteers. Several have been affected by this conflict and have even been displaced themselves. About 110 volunteers and 20 staff are active in the current emergency operation, mainly in Juba, Awerial county, Malakal and Bentiu. We have other volunteers on standby from unaffected areas.

We have heard reports of insecurity. How safe is it for volunteers of the South Sudan Red Cross to travel into affected areas?

Volunteers operate in their local environment with little movement in order to minimize security risks. It is only when certain expertise is required that we move them. Though there have been some tense situations affecting the work of volunteers, the work and the commitment of our volunteers continue. We appeal to all to give our volunteers and staff full, safe and unhindered access to people in need.

Looking at the bigger picture, how is this crisis threatening the progress made by South Sudan over the past several years?

The South Sudan Red Cross has been affected in many ways. Three branch offices have been completely destroyed with assets and property looted and vandalized, and we have lost a few vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles.

Gains made have been shattered, especially among the communities most affected by this crisis. Previous interactions will not be possible in the short term. It will take time for this to be rebuilt.

Lastly, the image of the National Society is at stake as programmes and infrastructure have been destroyed. We will have to make great efforts to rebuild our capacity to offer services to the communities we have been working with.

Peace must prevail for the country to emerge from this crisis. It will take energy and effort by all for this to happen.