In July 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country when it separated from Sudan after decades of civil war. In December violence broke out in South Sudan, threatening the stability of this fragile new government.
These events have motivated me to share journal entries from my work with Nuba Mountain refugees in October and November. The political instabilities that continue between north and south have meant that people in the Nuba Mountains have been unable to plant subsistence crops, educate their children or care for their sick and elderly. The poverty and starvation are devastating.
Oct. 19 – 21: Leyloo
• Purchased $3,000 of medicines in Juba, South Sudan.
• Flew with medicine and a North Face duffle stuffed with $30,000 cash in South Sudanese currency to Malakal near the Sudanese border.
• Crossed the Nile to Leyloo to visit a group of 1,000-plus Nuban refugees who had recently walked five days in search of food. An additional 500 people had already accepted transport to a distant United Nations refugee camp in the Unity State, where they were offered shelter, World Food Program food rations and schools for their children. Some stayed behind in the mountains because they had elderly or sick family who would not have survived the journey.
The UN declined to give the new Leyloo arrivals more food because the town is situated too close to the border and because Leyloo is not an official refugee camp. To survive, these refugees have been collecting firewood and selling it in the market to buy food.
Though we hadn’t originally planned to provide aid to this community, the food shortages we witnessed — along with distressed mothers and their crying children — led us to return to the market in Malakal, where we purchased 2,000 kilograms of their staple food grain, sorghum, 15 gallons of cooking oil and 120 packets of salt. They’d asked for help directly and I was glad we were able to do something.
The next day we hired a small boat to take our medical supplies to Kodok, which is situated farther east along the Sudanese border. We were welcomed by the Kodok commissioner and the leader of the Nuba, who had walked with his people from Kao-Nyaro. The Kodok commissioner described his long, friendly relationship with the Nubans, and the king of the local Shuluk tribe in Golo (a two-hour walk from Kodok) also welcomed the Nuba and invited them to stay as long as necessary.
After a heavy, muddy rain typical of the season, we met with the leaders of the Nuba refugees to make our plans. We calculated how much food we could buy and decided to distribute some food immediately because the onetime ration provided by the UN had run out weeks before and they were left, once again, to collect and sell firewood to survive.
The leaders hope to establish schools for their children, while the young men plan to return to their farms. They need help buying seeds and are confident that one good crop will return them to the self-sustenance they enjoyed for hundreds of years before any war with the north. They hope that this short-term support will have long-lasting results and believe that soon they will no longer depend on outside aid.
Used the remaining cash I had been carrying to purchase 262 bags (26,200 Kgs) of sorghum. 50 bags were delivered that day to refugees in Golo and 212 bags were stored for future needs.
We also bought 800 small packets of salt at request of the Nuban leader, who told us, “With a little salt you can eat anything,” after many survived by eating tree leaves and bugs.
They did not speak about it much, but when asked, the refugees described difficult days of travel in which many did not survive. Since July, around 200 people had died of hunger in their villages and they estimated 33 people, mostly small children, had died during their journey.
Returned to Juba to prepare for the next phase. My hope is that larger international non-government organizations will be able to step in very soon to provide the larger aid that is so greatly needed, including food to keep people alive until they can replant their own crops, extra sorghum to be saved and used for seed, education to provide hope for the future of the Nuba people.
Oct. 25 to Nov. 12
Traveled into the Nuba Mountains to facilitate the delivery of $50,000 of medications to restock medical clinics in the area. For security reasons I can’t offer other details. After our efforts, I received this email (dated Dec. 28) from another relief worker still in the area:
“Merry Christmas from Antonoville (a reference to the Antonov cargo planes the government in Khartoum is using to bomb civilians in the Nuba Mountains) … All is well here. Lots of bombardment over the past week or so. Hit the deck twice on Monday as one of the jets came overhead. No major casualties from that bombing but several from other bombings. Otherwise we’re carrying on with the work. The fighting in the south has complicated our situation a bit more so we really are praying for an end to that conflict. Hope all is well on your end.”
I hope that by drawing attention to this situation, more will be done to bring the peace for which the Nuba people pray.
I would like to thank my clients and my High Country Healthcare partners, especially Drs. Nations, Hay and Lawrance for their support.
Dr. C. Louis “Doc PJ” Perrinjaquet practices family medicine at High Country Healthcare Breckenridge. He provides international aid through his nonprofit organization, Doctors to the World.
The Nuban people “need help buying seeds and are confident that one good crop will return them to the self-sustenance they enjoyed for hundreds of years before any war with the north.”