Recently I was able to sit down with Abay Bekele, Head of Programmes in South Sudan to discuss the impact of the famine on children and families in the region, War Child’s response and the role that Canadians can play in supporting the people of South Sudan.
You can listen to or read our conversation below and donations to support the Emergency Appeal can be made here.
Abay Bekele: My name is Abay Bekele I am the Head of Programmes for South Sudan, War Child Canada’s South Sudan programmes.
James Topham: You come from South Sudan, which for those who don’t know is the youngest country in the world, but also one of the most troubled. It’s been in a state of civil war since 2013 and before that for decades before independence, really. How have these conflicts affected the people of South Sudan?
AB: It affected South Sudan in many ways. One is the fact that the spillover effect of the independence – the war for independence – is being reflected at the moment. The communities lack skill in the areas of agricultural cultivation, livestock rearing and all that, and there are also a number of harmful traditional practices like livestock raiding, which is directly affecting the current generation of South Sudan’s population.
JT: Quite recently the UN declared a famine in two provinces of South Sudan, which is a drastic thing for them to do. I think this is the first time for around 15 years that they’ve actually said there is an actual famine. How widespread is this problem, and how worried are you that this famine will spread across the country?
AB: Yes this is one of the worrying situations in South Sudan. The issue is not just having food, but rather the issue is having access to food. So long as the current conflict continues the chances that other regions are also affected by this famine is very high.
JT: Because South Sudan, I think people in North America, if they think of famine they think of deserts and dust, but South Sudan is not like that at all, is it?
AB: Yeah it is not, it is one of the virgin lands in East Africa, it is very green. You see green everywhere you go. The land is virgin, the grass is very tall. And everything is available. What is not available is peace.
JT: So if there wasn’t a current conflict there probably wouldn’t be a food shortage.
AB: Yes, resources from both humanitarian organizations as well as from natural gifts are there, but the opportunities to exploit them is a problem.
JT: What are we doing – is War Child doing – to support the people against this food shortage.
AB: War Child Canada has adapted its strategy in terms of addressing these issues. The first strategy is, we are intensifying our intervention in the POCs and IDPs. Most importantly we are also supporting communities in portable ways of production as well as to create easy access to food. For example if you provide households with fish kits, within 24 hours you are sure they will get the fish. And if you provide vaccinations to animals, for up to six months the animals are not getting sick. If animals are treated, within three days the milk production can increase by 90%. This kind of easy, very short term but potentially providing food access are supported by War Child Canada. The other area of intervention is education in emergencies. Most of our schools are closed in rural areas because people have moved to IDP centres so we have modified our model of intervention and we are now implementing activities within the IDP and POC centres.
JT: So South Sudan, it has appeared in the newspapers in North America recently but before that it very rarely got any attention really so what do you think people in North America should ask their governments to do to help?
AB: Anybody who has the knowledge of South Sudan or the context of South Sudan can advise the government to both continue supporting development and emergency interventions because the situation in South Sudan is in transition, at one time development is relevant and at another time emergencies are more relevant, so the programming that the government supports needs to consider both extremes.
JT: What can the ordinary Canadian or American do themselves?
AB: Continue supporting the fundraising in the name of South Sudan and other countries – Nigeria and Somalia which are equally affected. Just to discharge their human responsibility of supporting people in need.
JT: Fortunately they can give to us very easily on our website. What hope do you have for South Sudan’s future?
AB: South Sudan’s future is affected in two ways in my view. One is the immediate one, human suffering and loss of life, and the other one is the long term impact of famine and hunger on children. Children who are starving between one and five years of age are less likely to have the physical development, mental and income generating capacities. So South Sudan’s famine is not just a current problem, it will also have a spillover effect on the next generation.
JT: Well let’s hope it gets better soon.
AB: I hope so.
JT: Thank you very much for the time, and we will see you again soon.