Article: Peter Biro/The IRC, Photo: Primrose Bell/The IRC
For years, the South Sudanese village of Kanajak was deserted. Like so many other communities, it was caught in the crossfire of one of Africa’s longest running wars and its population fled north.
When peace arrived in 2005, millions of displaced southerners began to return home. One of them is Adut Got, a 28-year-old mother of six who late last year decided to come back after living for 15 years as a refugee in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.
“Everything was destroyed in the village—the houses, the fields,” she says. “We didn’t know where to start rebuilding.”
Most of Kanajak’s 1,500 residents have returned, but people are finding it difficult to make ends meet. United Nations food rations are no longer distributed, Adut Got says, and some of the villagers work modest plots of land planted with sorghum and sesame. Most villagers work as day labourers in surrounding farms. Some collect wood in the bush to burn and sell as charcoal in Aweil, a day’s walk away.
The situation is similar in towns all across South Sudan. According to a recent United Nations report, food shortfalls have worsened across the country in the first four months of 2012. Nearly half the population of South Sudan—4.7 million people—risks serious food shortages this year.
Drinkable water presents another challenge. When people first returned to Kanajak, they were forced to make do with untreated water collecting in stagnant pools, or else walk to wells several hours away.
“People were very sick,” says Adut. “Children especially were suffering from diarrhoea all the time.”
The International Rescue Committee came to the villagers’ aid, installing water pumps in order to help to serve 40,000 people in Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity states. In total the IRC has built approximately 80 water systems in South Sudan. We also manage health clinics in both Bahr el Ghazal and Unity states. These are just a few of the many programmes the IRC has initiated in the south both before and after South Sudan’s independence.
Decades of civil war and neglect left South Sudan one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. But today, 9 July, the country celebrates the anniversary of its independence, and Adut Got and her fellow villagers are looking forward, not back.
“Even though my children could go to school in Khartoum and things are difficult here, I really wanted to come home,” she says. “We are of the Dinka tribe and we belong here in Kanajak.”