Drinking clean water and barely hanging on

“English? English?” I mumble through the crowd looking for someone to interview. A few men look around and then back with an air of resignation. At some point Charles Kol appears. He is dressed in a peach colored shirt and has a book stuck on his chest pocket.

“English?” I ask him. He responds affirmatively. All around us are men with rough haircuts and hardened faces; the well-dressed Charles Kol doesn’t look like he belongs here. As I find out shortly, he doesn’t. Neither do the rest.

We are at Kuajina Evening School, a place for adult literacy. A few metres from the hand pump on a well is an old imposing brick building that has seen better days. It stands defiantly in the unfenced space of about an acre where men sit huddled in groups speaking in hushed tones.

World Concern is repairing and rehabilitating hand pumps in partnership with South Sudan’s Ministry of Water. As the job starts, youths surrounding the technicians seem mostly curious than excited. They have the kind of look you get when you’ve been through life and seen quite a few disappointments. But still they hang around the repair crew. As minutes tick, I can tell they are eager to see water flow.

It is part of World Concern’s emergency response – providing clean water through repair and rehabilitation of clean water points especially in villages receiving an influx of people displaced by conflict.

Since February when renewed fighting between militia and government forces started, the four classes inside the building have been home to hundreds of displaced people.

I find out that Charles is barely 24 hours old here. He arrived last night with 123 others on the back of a truck. Tonight another set of 124 will arrive in the already overcrowded space.

Safe house
The increasing population of displaced people has to grapple with many unimaginable challenges. Charles for instance, had to sit still on a cold floor till morning – his first night here. When he got up, he couldn’t get water either. He says he found many men and women thronged at a single hand pump at the local town centre attempting to fetch. “Even if you borrow, you won’t get because everyone is looking for it,” said Charles.

“Being alive is better than being comfortable,” he continues.

“What will you eat tonight?” I ask.

“My friend, I don’t know. Only God knows. If we get something small we will share (with my friends). If not, we sleep like that.”

South Sudan has been devastated by a three–year civil war that has seen the economy take a nosedive and food prices rising daily. Many of those displaced, like Charles, are cut off from their families and sources of income. They are barely hanging on.

“To tell you the truth I have not eaten anything all day. Food here is very expensive. One small container of sorghum is 400 SSP ($2.50). Where can you get that kind of money?”

When the hand pump finally coughs, sputters and unleashes a nice cold stream of water, a wave of excitement spreads through the compound. It’s the first time I have seen these men smile.

Black clouds are hovering, and the sound of thunder is loud – signs of impending rain. As my colleagues rush to the vehicle, I remain motionless, there, next to Charles Kol taking it all in. I am happy that he will drink clean water tonight, but how do I just walk away from a man staring at hunger in the face?

World Concern is providing assistance to a growing population of internally displaced people in need, through improving access to clean water, vital emergency supplies and trauma counseling.

 

Story and photos by Edwin Kuria

Dreaming of Canaan

Children huddle at the entryway, shielding the sun from crawling into a small, round home built of sticks and old clothes. Jimco sits in its shade, taking a rest from the heat of the day in Somaliland. The grandmother of many seems not to mind the curious eyes on her from outside as she starts to tell her story.

Her words hold the same meaning that many others could tell; like the thousand other people who have moved in to this internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. The severe drought over the last two to three years has caused most if not all their animals to die. Their meager savings is now rapidly being spent on food and there is no more income on the horizon.

“The last three years the drought has been bad and every day it gets worse,” Jimco said. “All my livestock died but at least my son has a few goats and sheep left. For me, I lost 20 camels, 10 donkeys and 200 sheep and goats.”

Now living in the makeshift camp, it takes her an hour to reach and return from the natural spring, the whole reason she came here. The water is salty and causes diarrhea, but at least it is water.

For many, they had only just started to recover from the 2011 famine crisis. In the last few years they had struggled to rebuild their livestock and try to prepare for the next drought. World Concern has assisted in the building of many water catchment and storage options. Select community members have been trained on veterinary care practices as well as trainings on farming and assistance with tree planting. Even the creation of community savings groups has spread from village to village.

But all of this only makes so much difference when substantial rain hasn’t come in well over two years.

As another woman in a village several hours drive away put it, “right now it affects the animals but after the animals, it is the people who will die.”

Ismail, head of neighboring village said that his community is no better off than the pastoralists. He, personally, has already lost 90% of his livestock.

“These people who have come, we know them, they now have zero income,” he said. “They’re poverty stricken. There’s a huge responsibility on us to take care of them. We are very worried for ourselves but more so for the IDP’s because we have no way to provide for them.”

Jimco laments not just the loss of her livelihood but also the altering Somali of traditions, a point of great pride.

“Before the droughts, the Somali culture was very good. If a traveler came we would give them anything for free,” she said. “But now if you come we have nothing to give. The drought is even changing our culture.”

As a child, Jimco said the now deserted wasteland was much more like Canaan, flowing with milk and honey.

“When I was young, this was a beautiful area; so much grass and everything was green. There was livestock everywhere and we had an endless supply of milk.”

World Concern is currently preparing a response plan to the drought. Click here to see how you can help someone like Jimco survive the drought.

Story and photos by Christena Dowsett