On January 1, 2020, as much of the world observed the New Year holiday, a team of World Food Programme (WFP) and PLAN International aid workers in eastern South Sudan left Pibor town for Gumuruk village in two all-terrain vehicles.
Their mission was to distribute food to communities hit hard by floods that directly affected close to 1 million people in the country, destroyed 73,000 metric tons of potential harvests and wiped out tens of thousands of cattle.
“There is no sickness here, only hunger”
Gumuruk village in Pibor County is one of the most badly affected areas in South Sudan hit by the floods in 2019 and is 360 km from the capital Juba.
Some communities in Pibor and its surrounding area, such as Gumuruk, are hard-to-reach areas that are at times cut off completely from road access. Only all-terrain vehicles can make it through the muddy road with life-saving food assistance.
A large private truck that failed is marooned in the wetlands, testament to the fact that the 30 km Pibor-Gumuruk road cannot be used by ordinary vehicles.
Airdrops bring food to a people in need
WFP had begun dropping food by air into Gumuruk from Christmas eve for two days.
“Even where to drop the food was a problem,” said Israel Odumbe, a WFP Drop Zone Coordinator. “There was water everywhere. And we couldn’t drop the food on water. I had to direct the aircraft to a small strip of dry land where we were able to drop the food, with minimal damage, and no injury to anyone.”
With the food safely delivered, WFP and PLAN International teams moved to Gumuruk aboard the all-terrain vehicles to register people to receive food.
By New Year’s eve, food distributions began in Gumuruk and reached almost 16,000 people, who received sorghum, pulses, vegetable oil and nutrition supplements for children below the age of five. WFP also provided assistance to the three neighbouring communities: Pibor, Verthet and Lekuangole.
The people of Gumuruk were very happy with the support from WFP and its partners. Mothers shared stories of loss and deprivation during the floods and told of how the assistance helped them feed their families and rebuild their lives.
“There is no sickness here, only hunger,” said Kirercho Lodoboyo, 40. “We are a strong people. We hardly get sick. Our main problem here is hunger.”
The mother of eight said her family lost virtually everything to the floods — her 3-year-old son, their cattle, their crops and their farmland. She said with the flood waters receding, she and her husband could resume farming, while the food provided by WFP in the meantime would help sustain her family.
Mary Konyi, 57, had six children but lost one of her sons aged about 30 to the floods. She said her family had also lost their crops, farmland and goats. But she added that she was happy to be alive, with her husband and the rest of the family.
Nyamdit Dodok, 40, has seven children. Her family lost all their property to the floods. She said she and her family members are ready to resume farming and other livelihood activities once the flood levels receded a little more.
Not every family in Gumuruk received food. The initial emergency flood response food assistance targeted the most vulnerable families and individuals. But the next food distribution by partners is expected to cover all households.
Donors such as the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and the European Union have provided invaluable support to WFP activities in South Sudan. However, more funding is needed in the wake of increased needs.
“WFP faces a crippling shortage of funds that threatens to jeopardize humanitarian work in the New Year,” says Matthew Hollingworth, WFP Country Director in South Sudan. “Levels of hunger in South Sudan are expected to worsen dramatically in the coming weeks and months unless assistance is scaled up.”
In addition to the WFP food and nutrition assistance, WFP also supports livelihood and resilience projects in Gumuruk. People are motivated to rebuild their lives by returning to their farms, reconstructing schools, markets and other community infrastructure, while WFP supports them with food.