South Sudan: “The worst living conditions I have ever seen’


Blog by Deborah Underdown
July 5, 2012

South Sudan: “The worst living conditions I have ever seen’ image 1
South Sudan 2012. Returnees in Bentiu. Story available 'Returning to South Sudan'. Photo credit: © 2012 Deborah Underdown/CARE

As I arrived in Bentiu in South Sudan and got out of the vehicle I was greeted by my CARE colleagues and a pair of Wellington boots. My trainers were going to be of no use here.

The rainy season has just started but already the roads are a huge challenge. The thick sticky mud makes getting anywhere a long process.

My driver for the day, Hassan (who also happens to manage CARE's water and sanitation programme so is multi-tasking) explains that in the coming weeks, as the rains get worse, it will be almost impossible to travel around. At the same time last year the best mode of transport was a quad motorbike- CARE used one to transport essential medical supplies.

We travel to Bentiu Port that is home to over 300 'returnees'. Since South Sudan's independence in July last year, over 400,000 people have returned to their home country from Sudan. They arrive with little and the journey can take months.

The living conditions of the returnees by the port are the worst I have ever seen.

I met a mother of five, Mayen, who told me that, on her journey to her home country, her seven month old baby girl died of malaria. She is now living with ten people, including her own children, in a shelter with one single bed. The floor is a bed of mud that the children sit and play in. I can't imagine what it will be like when it is also flooded. The fact that they won't even be able to escape the mud and water when they are inside is utterly overwhelming.

Seeing the children sitting on the floor with mud covered hands, the same hands that find their way into children's mouths is worrying. I want to reach out and tell them to keep their hands out of their mouths, as I would with my own niece when she has been crawling around on the floor back at home in the UK, but what would be the point? It's impossible to get away from the mud and the diseases that it carries, they can't even begin to keep their hands clean. It's so frustrating to know that the likelihood of them getting sick is very high.

CARE has set up a medical facility (it actually backs on to Mayen's shelter). Paul, a clinician working in the facility, told me that waterborne diseases were already increasing with many cases of watery diarrhea and respiratory tract infections. CARE is proving treatment as well as immunizing children against polio, tuberculosis and measles.

The poor roads and already dire living conditions are only set to get worse. CARE is pre-positioning relief items as well as helping returnees in Unity State. We are also helping refugees fleeing conflict and displaced people who are searching for food.

It must be noted that a year of independence isn't a long time in terms of building up capacities and infrastructure. The country's 'to do' list is long, but the Government and aid agencies like CARE are working hard to help the 800,000 people. People just like Mayen and her children, who are in desperate need.