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First cases of COVID-19 in camp for displaced in South Sudan spark fear

An estimated 182,000 people have sought refuge in South Sudan’s Protection of Civilians (POC) sites, out of its 1.5 million internally displaced population. The rest have settled in camp-like settlements and other similar areas. At least 80 percent are in dire need of humanitarian assistance to survive and children comprise an estimated 54 percent of the total displaced population.

This week, two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in one POC site in Juba, the country’s capital city, which created an alarm among its population. There are two POC sites in Juba and two others in Bentiu and Malakal, in Unity and the Upper Nile States, respectively. World Vision, in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), provides food and cash assistance to over 84,000 people in these sites.

As part of World Vision's global response to COVID-19 response, educational campaigns with information on how families can protect themselves from COVID-19 were added to the activities during the food and cash distributions in all the IDP sites. To date more than 800,000 people have been reached through these campaigns in World Vision's projects and across the country through the support of partners, health workers as well as community and faith leaders.

“The impact on the displaced inside the camps will be horrendous if lifesaving support and security measures will not be organized well. There are thousands of children, women, and vulnerable people inside these camps, many have already been languishing in difficult conditions nobody can imagine. The need for all the agencies, partners and the humanitarian community to work with the government is urgent at this time”, says Mesfin Loha, World Vision’s Country Programme Director in South Sudan.

Aluel Tong, 21 years old and her baby 1-year old Kuot Simon during a food distribution activity in an IDP settlement in Juba. Due to overcrowding and lack of facilities, thousands of people, especially children and the elderly, are at risk of coronavirus.

 

“Due to imposed restrictions, the water supply inside the POC where we live is a big problem as water trucks were not allowed. The situation is tense as some families have no water to drink while others resorted to drinking rainwater. Thank God, it rained again yesterday so people were able to collect a limited amount. We were told the measures imposed were meant to protect us in the camp but people are near panic after the cases were confirmed,” shares Chuol, World Vision’s accountability monitor, and also a displaced person living in the POC.

The world must not forget the needs of these displaced population in South Sudan and the rest of the fragile states around the world. They have already suffered too much and many of the children have been left behind from opportunities they deserve like education, health, and essential life-saving services. These are people who have been deprived and do not have any choice at all.

Rebecca, a 35-year old mother of four is distraught. “ I am terribly scared not for myself but for my children. How will we survive this virus now that it is inside the POC? I want to go home and would prefer to die in my village than stay here and helplessly watch my children suffer from this virus without any cure”, she says. Home for Rebecca in a village in Malakal where she fled with her children from the fighting. Days of walking led them to Juba POC where they have lived for five years.

Rebecca, a mother of four, living inside the POC holds empty plastic containers that she uses to store water for her family. With the threat of missing the supply, she is worried what to do next.

 

“My worry is the congestion in the POC and a misconception about Coronavirus as some people choose not to believe that the virus is real and dangerous. This can prompt the infections to spread fast. I am afraid we will lose many lives. Despite our efforts to educate and inform people, many are reluctant to follow precautionary measures.. We shall continue to raise awareness until our community understands.  IDPs are facing a tough challenge at this moment because of already existing poor living conditions, lack of space, and proper hygiene facilities”, adds Chuol.

Loha adds, “The world must not forget the needs of these displaced population in South Sudan and the rest of the fragile states around the world. They have already suffered too much and many of the children have been left behind from opportunities they deserve like education, health, and essential life-saving services. These are people who have been deprived and do not have any choice at all.”

World Vision’s food and cash assistance work in South Sudan has assisted over 872,000 people in 2019 including more than 98,000 children being provided with healthy meals at the school feeding programs across the country. The number of children was increased to 183,000 this 2020 but missed this opportunity when the schools closed last March due to the coronavirus threats. Planning is ongoing to restore these programs and allow children to have their meals despite the lockdowns.

A mother on her way home after receiving the food assistance from WFP and World Vision in an IDP settlement in Juba, South Sudan's capital city.

 

Story by Cecil Laguardia, Communications Manager I Photos by various World Vision staff