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Archive for the ‘Complex emergency’ Category

This weekend, I fly back to London for Christmas and I have been wondering how it will feel to be catapulted in to the climactic point of the festive season with no warm up. From the heat and dust of Sudan, to a frosty land of tinsel and lights; mince-pies and mulled-wine; frenetic Christmas shoppers and Wham’s Last Christmas at every turn.

Last Saturday we held a Christmas party for about a hundred of our local Sudanese staff. We slaughtered and barbequed two bulls, cleaned and cooked a veritable mountain of intestines and bowels and distributed bags of second-hand clothes donated by kindly-Americans as gifts. Mid-celebration, I found my reflecting upon how ‘un-Christmassy’ it all was. In this place you cannot hide behind the Christmas tree or lose yourself in the Christmas brandy. No Santa Claus, no carol-singing, no decorations in my tukul; just something which looked a lot like every day life. Do they know it’s Christmas time at all, Bono?

And then someone read the Christmas story.

In a time of insecurity and political fragility, a man and woman travel hundreds of miles to return to the village of their birth in order to register their names for an election.* A heavily pregnant woman walks for days in order to find somewhere to safely give birth.** A woman cries out as she gives birth in a mud-hut; outside the cows low under a night filled with the brightest of stars. A couple flee a country with their new born baby and spend the next few years as refugees, waiting for it to be safe enough to return home.*** A village is raided and burnt; in the morning, the massacred bodies of children are found.****

This is Sudan. Here is Christmas every day.

* Registering for elections

** Giving birth in South Sudan

*** Returning refugees

**** Akobo massacre

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Fighting has broken out in Motot, a couple of kilometres from our compound. Over the past few days – fearing for their lives if they stay in the area – some of our local male staff have been requesting leave from work. It’s an inter-clan dispute: people were killed, revenge is sought, and so it goes on.

As I type, war cries sound from the village next door. The women are beating their hands against their mouths; horns are being sounded; there is singing and the beating of drums. Soon there will be gunshots. Yesterday one gun-shot victim was brought to our clinic; tomorrow perhaps there will be more. An army vehicle drove past our front gates today, soldiers hanging off the back of the pick-up truck. But the response, indeed the capacity for response, is inadequate, even for this comparatively small-scale violent episode. With a heavily armed civilian population, even the smallest of disputes turns bloody.

We are safe here: the threat is not directed at us and almost never is, but the same cannot be said for many of our local staff who live in Motot and are involved in the conflict. Or perhaps the families they have left behind. I pray that it is safe for them to return soon, but it’s hard not to feel frustrated and a little desperate when in all likelihood, it will happen all over again next week or next month.

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A week or so ago I went to Pieri to assist with the emergency feeding programme. That day, the children who attended were either on our supplementary feeding programme (for moderately malnourished children) or our outpatients therapeutic programme (for severely malnourished children). The worst cases (severe acute malnutrition with complications) get admitted into a stabilisation unit.

Malnutrition is a constant here (the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate in our county stands at about 22%) and is not a result of a particular event such as a drought or a conflict – rather it is a part of every day life. Only 30-40% of people live within one day’s walk of a health facility; maternal mortality rates are the highest in the world, and one out of every seven children will die before their fifth birthday. That’s enduring poverty for you.

Each week, those who attend the feeding centre are measured and weighed with the results recorded and as you go back week after week, you can see the improvement as the numbers slowly creep up and up on the children’s admission cards (though never reaching ‘normal’). You can literally see the flesh growing on skinny arms and legs. And yet come the hunger season, or the time when we exit them from the programme because their weight for height is deemed to be acceptable, in all likelihood their numbers will plummet once again. This work is so necessary – so lifesaving – and yet so impermanent. Relief work is ever a short term solution, yet stability has evaded South Sudan for so long, preventing it (together with a plethora of other factors) from transitioning into more long term development. NGOs all too often exacerbate the problem of course, by inadvertently encouraging dependency long after a crisis is over.

If you pray, pray for this place: pray for stability, for change, for peace, for strong and committed leaders. Pray that Sudan doesn’t return to all out war next year as so many predict. Pray against the endless cycle of revenge and retaliation which has this place by the throat.

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