Like many of the more than 230,000 refugees who have fled over the border into South Sudan since the crisis began in neighbouring Sudan in April, Nyakuma Mayot did so with little more than the clothes on her back.
The 42-year-old says what little else she could carry was sold to pay for food and medicine for her family.
Sometimes our families in other parts of South Sudan send us some money. Most times, we sell the personal belongings we brought from Sudan to the host communities.
Nyakuma arrived in Camp Ziro in the border town of Renk – a community where the limited available resources were badly stretched by the sheer number of people arriving, pushing prices for basic essentials upwards.
To help people survive, in June, the Scottish Government provided essential funding to support Oxfam’s humanitarian response, which involves the distribution of cash support to more than 7,000 people. Nyakuma is one of those who have received a payment.
“I used (the money) to buy sorghum and other food stuff,” said Nyakuma, adding: “Our biggest challenge is food and medicine when a family gets sick. We get medical treatment here in the camp and if the drug is not there, then we buy it from outside the camp.”
Oxfam has worked in South Sudan since 1983 and received £125,000 from the Scottish Government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund. Along with high-profile emergencies, the Fund supports those, like the crisis caused by the conflict in Sudan, that unfold away from the world’s attention. The Fund is an important contribution at a time of intense levels of humanitarian need, driven by conflict and climate change, and with UN appeals just 30% funded.
Oxfam’s project in South Sudan provides households with a one-off emergency payment equivalent to £74. Crucially, people can decide what to spend the money on themselves, based on their family’s specific needs – an approach that is both faster and more dignified.
Like Nyakuma, most people buy food, medication, or the materials they need to build temporary shelters; others pay for their onward journeys.
“I walked barefoot for several weeks. It never was the priority at the time because we only needed to leave and find safety”, said Nyakoro Majok, 53, who lives with her son, daughter in-law and husband. Nyakoro has been living in the Renk transit centre, which was temporarily setup to host those displaced. She added: “I did not bring shoes from Sudan but with that (cash support) I bought jackets and sandals,”
With the arrival of the rains, Nyakoro was forced to set up temporary shelters using straws and plastic sheets which now serve as her last line of defence against the ravages of torrential rains and the scorching sun. She said: “My family and thousands of other families have been living in the open until we bought this tent with the money we got.”
Oxfam allocates the funding with support from a committee made up of community elders, while ensuring representation of women and young people. But while the cash support offers a vital lifeline, deep challenges remain; with more help needed.
“I used the money to buy food, medicine for children and every time for eating”, said 67-year-old Maker Arop, adding: “We used it for breakfast and supper, no lunch. The money is small and can’t sustain us, as you can see the children are getting thinner.”
Dr Manenji Mangundu, Oxfam’s Country Director in South Sudan, says the challenges have been deepened by severe floods which have cut off roads, destroyed houses, damaged health centres and washed animals away.
He said: “I would like to thank the Scottish Government for providing Oxfam with funding that has helped people running away from the Sudan crisis who now find themselves in a flooding crisis caused by climate change. The effects are felt everywhere, and by people that have nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions.”
Akon Anthony Kiir, who used the cash he received to buy food and medicine for his children, said: “One of the challenges is rains destroy our food in the house because they are not well covered. Another is pests and insects that bite children because they sleep on the floor.”
As well as the Scottish Government-funded cash support, Oxfam is targeting help to children separated from their family, older people, those who have a disability or an illness, single parents and their children, and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. This includes training stakeholders to support social cohesion among the people arriving and the host communities.
Despite the substantial humanitarian needs, funding to the region remains wholly insufficient with the UN’s $1.7 bn humanitarian response plan for South Sudan alone only 50% funded.
Over 3.9 million people, mostly women and children have been displaced within Sudan and in the neighboring countries Chad, South Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic. Oxfam is calling for an immediate and lasting peace in Sudan and urgent additional funding for frontline organisations.
Please, if you can, support Oxfam’s East Africa Hunger Crisis Appeal.
Oxfam’s emergency response in South Sudan is funded by the Scottish Government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund.