We spent much of the first week in relief coordination meetings with the other International NGOs discussing a pending humanitarian emergency.
Within the next two weeks 12,000 people are expected to be returning to the region from North Sudan. Some unexpected trains have already begun arriving. These are mostly people who have been living in the northern refugee camps because of the war. They are now being loaded onto trains and shipped back to the South, whether they like it or not. They arrive with no food or money, just a few meager possessions, and there are not enough local resources to sustain them. We were involved in so many coordination meetings with everybody trying to have their emergency plans in place.
The discussions in these meetings included topics such as setting up mobile clinics, food distribution, providing anti-malarial drugs, distributing mosquito nets, dealing with gender based violence and protective services for the vulnerable, handing out hygiene kits with bars of soap, as well as concerns about lack of sanitation facilities, which cross over into malnutrition issues.
The World Food Program has enough food to last just one month but after that there is going to be a major problem. The people already living in this area struggle during the dry months for food as it is, which begins now and lasts till April or May. With the strain of these additional people, the impending famine is not a threat, it is inevitable and unavoidable.
The reports are stating that there is an emergency situation in the camps they are leaving from and that many people have already died. 5000 children were reported to have died last month alone of malaria. The experts are trying to figure out what to do. It’s a two-week train ride and they fear there will be dead bodies arriving on the trains.
Many people have been living in terrible conditions in the northern camps, but some have been living normal lives there. All southerners are being forced to come back to the South and there is concern that many of them have no idea what they’re coming back to. In the North, there are basic services and infrastructure such as roads, power and water. Many will expect the living conditions to be similar and are going to be in for a huge shock when they step off those trains.
Without this assistance from the NGOs, I hate to think how frightening the situation would be. I met very interesting aid workers in the meetings. Despite the extreme living conditions around here, we met doctors, psychologists and other highly trained specialists who have given up their lives of comfort to bring their expertise to these people in extreme need.
We are one of the few organizations who are able to focus on assistance for existing communities, since everybody else is dealing with the pending crisis. Everyone seems happy we are here and able to help. But it’s going to be tough work. That’s for sure.