South Sudan Church Responds ‘Wholeheartedly’ to Crisis

Episcopal Relief & Development is working with its partners in South Sudan as they respond to the humanitarian needs of people displaced by the current crisis.  The Episcopal Church of South Sudan & Sudan (ECSSS) has established nine relief centers in Awerial to provide supplies and pastoral care to people who have fled violence in the nearby town of Bor.  The Church’s relief and development arm, SUDRA (the Sudanese Development and Relief Agency), reports that nearly 76,000 people from Bor are currently sheltering at churches, schools and under trees in Awerial.  Many of the displaced arrived on boats via the Nile River, which separates Jonglei State from Lakes State.

The most recent outbreak of civil unrest in South Sudan erupted on December 15, 2013, in the country’s capital, Juba.  Conflict between two armed elements within the South Sudan Presidential Guard – one loyal to President Salva Kiir and one to former Vice President Riek Machar – spread from Juba through seven out of the country’s ten states.  Clashes between the two groups over control of key towns such as Bor and Malakal has led to the displacement of around 194,000 people.  Some have crossed into neighboring countries, and approximately 54,000 are seeking refuge at UN bases inside South Sudan, but thousands are sheltering out in the open with little security and scant supplies.

“The scale of the displacement, combined with limited local resources and infrastructure for absorbing large populations at short notice, presents numerous challenges,” said Nagulan Nesiah, Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development.  “People look to the Church for care and leadership in times of crisis, and ECSSS has responded wholeheartedly, opening doors and mobilizing available resources to help those in need.”

In Awerial, the church compound alone is housing nearly 16,000 people, with many more in adjacent open areas.  Scarcity of food is a major concern both in the displacement camps and in the town, due to the sudden large influx of people from Bor, and children are particularly at risk of malnutrition.  SUDRA aims to address this by providing cooked food rations for 2,000 children through the Church’s nine relief centers.  Episcopal Relief & Development support will enable SUDRA to purchase milk, rice and sugar for the feeding program, as well as charcoal and utensils for cooking and serving.

The Church in Awerial is also providing logistical and pastoral support for displaced people, with youth volunteers helping to assess needs and organize services in the camps.  In addition to food, there is acute need for shelter materials, cooking utensils, medical care and adequate water and sanitation.  Other agencies are addressing health issues such as malaria, waterborne disease and measles.

“Accessing contested and rebel-held areas has not been possible due to the security situation, so assessment of humanitarian needs by outside actors has been extremely limited,” said Nesiah.  “However, because the Church has long-term presence and deep relationships in these communities, it has been able to gather and relay information that is extremely valuable in planning a coordinated, large-scale response.”

Episcopal Relief & Development anticipates a broader proposal from ECSSS and SUDRA to address food, shelter and healthcare needs for internally displaced people across the conflict region.  SUDRA will concentrate on identifying and filling gaps in services provided by the UN and other emergency response organizations.  Relief activities are planned within the context of the Church’s long-term development programs, which aim to empower vulnerable and marginalized people to make sustainable improvements in their lives and communities.

“Episcopal Relief & Development has been partnering with the Church and SUDRA since before the independence referendum to ensure that people returning to South Sudan would have spiritual and technical support to build thriving communities,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Vice President for Programs.  “We have been accompanying the Church as it builds its own capacity and networks to respond to emergencies like this, and SUDRA’s community-based development work has increased stability and resilience at the grassroots level.  We will continue to stand with our partners at this time of crisis and through their long-term work.”

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