The Chaos of Life on the Run in South Sudan

Unity State, Leer, South Sudan. A man helps a woman to heave a bag of sorghum on her head at an ICRC food distribution. ©Jacob Zocherman/ICRC

Unity State, Leer, South Sudan. A man helps a woman to heave a bag of sorghum on her head at an ICRC food distribution. ©Jacob Zocherman/ICRC

Through a series of stories, videos and photos this week, the ICRC is showing what life has been like for many in South Sudan since the outbreak of violence in December 2013. In the past 2 years, the delegation’s budget and staff have more than doubled in response to the growing humanitarian needs. In 2013, the ICRC budget for South Sudan was just 75 million USD. Today, South Sudan is the ICRC’s second largest operation in the world. Over 2 million people have fled their homes because of conflict. Many of whom had to leave with little more than the clothes they were wearing, leading to an astounding 4.6 million people whose livelihood depends on humanitarian assistance. 

Though a peace agreement has been signed between the warring parties, the humanitarian consequences remain extremely concerning with the underlying causes of violence, hunger, and exploitation still a reality. Because of mass displacement, entire communities are now in search of food and health care and exposed to the dangers of warfare and sexual assault. Many people have been separated from their loved ones and millions still desperately hope to return to their homes. 

To underscore the difficulties of daily life for those on the run in South Sudan, ICRC poses three questions that frame the hardships:

How would you survive with no food?

In the village of Kolapach in Jonglei state, thousands of hungry, displaced people have gathered. Nyathon Pur, who fled violence in her hometown of Malakal, lives under a tree with her children and grandchildren. “My children are still really hungry,” Pur said after cooking grains from an ICRC food distribution for 24,000 people. “But I am just protecting them. If I cook all the food at once tomorrow they will have nothing.” Watch her story in this video:

What would you do while sick or injured if your health care facility was closed?

Kodok’s hospital was caught in the cross fire of fighting in July. Two people were killed and 11 patients died in subsequent days as South Sudanese staff and an ICRC surgical team were forced to leave the hospital. Despite having a bullet wound in his leg, patient Joseph Deng also had to flee. “The attack was a bad experience for all of us, including the doctors,” he said.

Who would you call if you were separated from your family and could only make a 3-minute call?

Thousands of people who flee violence become separated from family members and have no way to contact them. With support from the South Sudan Red Cross staff and volunteers across the country, the ICRC provides short but essential satellite or mobile phone calls for family members to connect. Photographer Giles Duley documented such calls by constructing a Do-It-Yourself photo studio in the town of Akobo to take touching portraits of family members connecting by phone.

YYen Gai Nai, 40, and Nyabuai Gai Rial, 19, call family members using an ICRC satellite phone in a remote location in South Sudan.

YYen Gai Nai, 40, and Nyabuai Gai Rial, 19, call family members using an ICRC satellite phone in a remote location in South Sudan.

Further Reading

The most recent facts and figures of ICRC’s activities the past two years can be found on icrc.org. Additionally, you can find Intercross’ previous coverage on South Sudan, including video interviews in October 2013, before the renewed violence, with the former South Sudan ICRC Head of Delegation, Melker Mabeck, and in 2014 with former ICRC Head of Operations for East Africa, Eric Marclay.

In the U.S. Congress, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently held a hearing on South Sudan, where representatives of the US Government and NGO community spoke to the increasing humanitarian crisis. For further reporting from the NGO community, please find UNHCR, Oxfam, MSF, and Human Rights Watch’s timely coverage.