The atrocities of conflict in South Sudan and the struggle to rebuild

Publié: 10 juillet 2014 15:56 CET

By Merlijn Stoffels, Netherlands Red Cross Society

This morning, I was awakened by an incredible downpour. I think about the families I saw yesterday, realizing that many of them are now getting wet in their leaky, makeshift huts. We have to make sure that all these people get tarps, but I know it’s impossible to help everyone, simply because the Red Cross and other organizations don’t have the finances for this. The rain stops, fortunately for the refugees, but also for me. I walk through the mud to the washhouse, where I can bathe using a bucket of water. I am reminded that my co-workers, some of whom have been here for months now, don’t have it so easy. At least they still have a washhouse; at the site where many of the internally displaced have settled, dirty puddles serve as bathtubs.

After breakfast, we get in the car and drive north. There are a few villages in this area, in the bush, where the Red Cross distributed relief goods a few weeks ago. The fighters had been chased up north from Juba in early January, looting villages they encountered along the way, setting fire to huts. Those who were unable to flee were abducted, killed and, sometimes, raped.

The Red Cross aid worker who visited one of the affected villages to find out what kind of aid was required told me that he was in shock when he first arrived. He saw children whose bellies were distended from starvation, people walking around at a slackened pace, as if they were in a film playing in slow motion, and when you looked in their eyes, it was obvious to see how traumatized they were. “I have been in many conflict zones, but I have never seen anything this bad,” he told me.

Even now, months later, the situation still appears dire. All their livestock, household utensils, and grain stocks have been stolen. Many houses have since been repaired using tarps from the Red Cross, but the food families received has run out. They are keeping themselves alive by cooking leaves. Small children are being sent off to find these leaves, the same children who saw the drama unfold before their eyes. There are also many people here with diarrhoea, but there is no medical station to be found anywhere in the area.

I speak to a man who hasn’t been able to rebuild his home yet, because he can’t afford it.  Until such time he can rebuild, he is allowed to sleep in the church. This is not the worst of it, however. During the attack, he wasn’t in the village. Upon his return, he saw the ruin, and found his wife, dead, in their hut. His son was gone, only his daughter was still alive. His searches to find his son have not produced any results. When I ask him whether he expects to be able to rebuild his life in the future, his eyes fill up with tears. The only way for him to get the money he needs to rebuild his livestock and become self-sufficient again would be to sell his daughter, but she’s still far too young.

A bit later, I speak to a ten-year-old boy. His story is so sad, that I question whether to record it using the video camera. He wants to talk about it, he tells the Red Cross volunteer who is translating for me. When I ask what happened on the night in question, I see the sad look in his eyes. He can’t look at me as he finally tells his story. His father, brother and sister were murdered right in front of him. He’s the only one left. His aunt is caring for him now, but she doesn’t have enough food to feed him. He can’t stop thinking about that fateful day, it continues to haunt him. He doesn’t see how he will ever be able to build a good future. I feel a lump forming in my throat. I would love nothing more than to take him with me, far away from here, away from the fear and misery. I know it’s not possible, but it frustrates me that there isn’t enough money to at least provide this boy with the vital necessities after everything he’s been through.