A journey across drought-affected South Sudan and Somalia

Valeria Sau
Valeria talking to internally displaced people at the camp in Bossaso in Puntland, northern Somalia

An unprecedented drought is affecting East Africa and it is not expected to end any time soon. That means there are more hard times ahead – but from what I saw on my recent visit, the people of South Sudan and Somalia are determined (with CARE’s help and thanks to the generosity of the UK public) to get through it.

I’ve travelled to South Sudan several times over the past years. I know what a rainy season looks like, so I came prepared. I had my rain-jacket, my gumboots (up to the knees as it gets really muddy there), and a waterproof backpack. Only there was no rain. To my surprise we could easily land in Koch (Unity State) and from there drive for five hours along the road to Pakur (Gany County).

The nature and scale of humanitarian needs in South Sudan is not just due to the drought: it is also the consequence of ongoing violence and conflict. In March 2017, famine was declared in Koch County and 4.9 million people (about 42% of the population) were estimated to be severely food insecure across South Sudan. Thanks to the immediate response of CARE and other humanitarian partners, the famine alert has been lifted, but the late onset of the rainy season and the ongoing conflict have contributed to an increase in the number of food-insecure people to 6 million by July 2017.

Portrait of John in Pakur, South Sudan
John in Pakur: “People here have had no food for 10 months; we all depend on milk to survive. As members of the Community Committee we have a very big task: before the distribution we tell the community not to eat the seeds but to plant them so we will have crops and vegetables to harvest.”

Helping people in South Sudan

Working in South Sudan is not easy. Poor infrastructure, security concerns and logistical glitches require lots of efforts and good planning to ensure a timely response. Working together with the South Sudanese NGO, Nile Hope, we were the first humanitarian actors to have an operational base in Pakur, where famine was declared in March.

As this is a new area for operation of humanitarian workers, even charter emergency deliveries of supplies such seeds and tools or fishing kits take longer than usual, requiring security clearance for the airstrip, discussions with the authorities both in Pakur and in Juba, and with the airline company, all the time hoping that the moment all the documents are ready it is still possible to land and the airstrip is not flooded because of the longed-for rains.

Many people are coming back here from Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) site, some of them with cattle, but there is no health centre, no school, no market. In order to go to the clinic, people have to walk to Koch or to Bentiu, which can take up to 16 hours in the bush.

Portrait of Nyajima in Pakur, South Sudan
Nyajima is a member of the Community-Based Protection and Accountability Committee in Pakur: “In our culture is rare to see a man sharing house duties, but now I have learned that if a woman is pregnant the man can help her.”

How is CARE helping?

CARE and Nile Hope are implementing a project in Koch and Pakur with funding from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). There, we distribute seeds and tools and fishing kits to women and men of the community and train them on improved agricultural and fishing techniques. In line with CARE’s commitment to empower women and girls and promote a life free from violence, we also set up a gender-based violence programme to raise awareness in the community, give women and girls a safe space to do psychosocial activities together, and ensure that survivors of GBV receive emergency medical services and the psychological support services they need.

Next on my itinerary was a visit to Somalia to check on CARE’s work there.

Portrait of Asha in Bossaso, Puntland
Asha (above) and Hussein (below) are members of the Water Management Committees in the camp for internally displaced people in Bossaso. They help to manage the water points to ensure they are functioning properly and that people have access to clean water.
Portrait of Hussein in Bossaso, Puntland
Hussein, a member of a Water Management Committee in Bossaso

When I landed in Bossaso, in the north of Puntland (the far north of Somalia), the thermometer indicated 46°, a hot and dry wind was blowing and the sand forced us to close our eyes when we walked out of the plane. Apparently, the weather in Bossaso can be so hot that the residents leave town during the summer months. Only people who have no choice – the internally displaced, and the most vulnerable people – stay on in their makeshift shelters.

Some internally displaced people (IDPs) have been there since 1992 and many more have arrived over the years – including up to April 2017, when news that the rains had started prompted many to walk towards the north of Puntland, only to arrive there and find that the rains were not enough.

Too exhausted for the journey, without any means to survive and with their livestock – the main source of livelihood and income for these pastoral people – in such bad shape that it was not even worth selling them, new IDPs have no other option but to stay there, hoping for the assistance of humanitarian agencies like CARE.

In Somalia, people depend on two rainy seasons: the main one, the Gu, goes from April to June while the Dayr is shorter and lasts from October to December. In 2016, the effects of El Niño were harsh, with two failed rainy seasons. Despite the Gu rains starting again in April this year, they were below average – not enough to replenish the water basins and allow people to plant crops or graze their animals.

With the main rainy season having failed for the second year in a row, the next Dayr will not be enough to allow for a full recovery. For this reason we can predict that the situation will continue to be critical at least until the next Gu arrives in April 2018.

Shino and her daugher in Bossaso, Puntland
Shino takes her daughter to get screened for malnutrition in the centre run by CARE and the Ministry of Health in Bossaso

How is CARE helping?

In Somalia, CARE – with funding from the DEC – implements activities in the districts of Iskushuban and Bayla, in the Bari region of Puntland. Our cash transfer programme – which provides ‘unconditional’ cash that families can spend as and when they choose – enables households to meet their basic needs, while providing a boost to the local economy. Where markets are less active, CARE distributes food vouchers to vulnerable households. CARE has also restored four boreholes and provided fuel subsidies to keep the water pumps running, ensuring over 100,000 people have access to clean drinking water.

CARE staff and construction workers in Bossaso IDP camp, Puntland
CARE staff and construction workers at the IDP camp in Bossaso

CARE is a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and the programmes described here were funded by donations from the UK public to the DEC’s East Africa Crisis Appeal. Donations were doubled by the UK Aid Match scheme provided by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Thanks to this funding, CARE was able to support 104,000 vulnerable people with food, cash, livelihoods, access to water and protection activities.

Valeria Sau's picture

Valeria Sau is Humanitarian Programme Coordinator (Africa/Latin America and the Caribbean) for CARE International UK.