(27.06.) In the refugee camp near to the town of Bentiu in South Sudan around 38,000 people struggle daily to obtain food. Many of them fled so quickly from the civil war that there wasn’t enough time to pack even the most essential items.
Just how exhausting this situation is for all involved – for the development aid workers too – is described by Jürgen Mika from the Welthungerhilfe emergency response team in his blog. He distributes food parcels, blankets and sleeping mats in the refugee camp.
The sense of time disappears
Somehow, I have lost all sense of time... how long have I been here? Seven days, seven weeks or seven months? It is tiring here: many of the refugees have reached their limit and when food is distributed there are always disputes. People live in tents or homemade shelters made of tarpaulin. There are some people, such as the elderly, the sick and those with disabilities, who are too weak to build one for themselves. Welthungerhilfe builds emergency shelters for them. A glance at the calendar shows me that I’ve been here for just ten days, although it feels like much longer.
Coordination and teamwork
Here in the UN camp we are a team of around 125 aid workers, working for 17 international organisations – one of those is Welthungerhilfe. In order that we are as effective as possible, we coordinate all relief efforts and work together. With colleagues from the UN World Food Programme, for example, I distribute food for Welthungerhilfe. Together we can provide a lot: in one day we hand out provisions to 13,000 people! The distributions are hard work for all of those involved. People push and jostle to reach the relief supplies. It is not just food being given out, it is sanitary products, cooking utensils, mosquito nets, blankets and sleeping mats as well. But it’s the food that is especially in demand. Many fled from the fighting in a great hurry. They brought almost nothing with them.
The fact that these displaced persons mostly left their homes with just the clothes on their back leads to tensions within the camp. When I arrived here there were big demonstrations in the refugee camp several times a day. It is difficult to immediately provide for everyone and not everyone understands the criteria for registering for aid. The people then protest because they are not provided for and have to wait. The fighting going on outside the camp causes additional problems, the refugees are tense and nervous. Again and again the camp threatens to get out of control. As a result, for security reasons we regularly have to postpone planned aid distributions.
Aid should be distributed fairly
There are always people who are still not registered for the food distributions. These could be, for example, newly-arrived refugees who have not yet enrolled themselves on the distribution lists as a camp resident. Those who are registered dip their thumb in ink as proof. This form of documentation is also used for elections, as the people here have no identity papers. Despite this, if the plight is particularly bad, some people will still try to obtain two aid packages. But we have to share out the aid relief effectively. Relief convoys are attacked again and again and no-one can say with certainty when the next convoy will reach the refugee camp.
Additional aid workers cannot be called up, for security reasons. The relatively small number here can still be evacuated, should it be necessary. There is always fighting in the surrounding area. At dawn I am awoken by the sound of gunfire and the chatter of machine guns. At the moment, as I write, I can hear the muffled sounds of shells being fired somewhere nearby. I hear often of people who are being shot at or even killed outside the camp.
People remain dependent on aid
I never leave the camp to visit the surrounding villages or the town of Bentiu. It is just too dangerous. I will stay here and organise the food distributions, as people will be dependent on our help for a while longer, even if the fighting suddenly stopped tomorrow. The rainy season has just begun and really the seeds should be sown.