Likuangole in Pibor County, one of the counties hardest hit in recent years due to relentless conflict and organized violence, as well as catastrophic flooding. Crerdit: Marwa AwadLikuangole, South Sudan, January 22nd (IPS) – Likuangole, located in the state of Jonglei, one of the most underdeveloped regions of South Sudan, is a city hit hard by flooding and frequently ravaged by conflict. Despite the lack of secondary schools and industry, residents strive to change their lives. However, it takes real investment to drive development forward.
The constant threat of insecurity lies in the city of Likuangole in South Sudan, with ongoing attacks on land, livestock and water making peace in the world’s youngest country in 2021 a challenging prospect.
It is one of nine cities in the greater Jonglei area, one of the least developed regions of South Sudan. Besides cattle and sheep breeding and subsistence farming, the population has very few opportunities for economic growth. Chronic attacks of organized and localized violence create divisions between communities.
But this year brought even more suffering as devastating floods devoured homes, farmland and cattle, wiped out crops and kept the region from accessing land. With such constant setbacks, farmers see little point in cultivating. With their livelihoods destroyed and access to food disrupted, people are being pushed ever closer to the margins.
Aerial view of Jonglei state, one of the most inaccessible and isolated regions of South Sudan. Credit: Marwa AwadMartha Thiro, 29, says she never stops worrying. “The women in Likuangole live in constant fear. The floods may have stopped, the water is subsiding, but I don’t know if to be happy or scared because the end of the flood means the violence will return. ”
Martha prepares herself and her children for these threatening attacks, which usually take place at set times of the year. “The children know that they have to run to the bush and take shelter near trees where the gul or lalob fruits grow,” she says. Gul is a bitter-tasting red fruit found in the wild bush. It is used as a source of food for people hiding from violent attacks.
With a population of 26,000, Likuangole is one of 55 hard-to-reach areas where the WFP has to drop food to serve isolated populations. Floods and the damage they have caused have doubled food aid and extended distribution over longer periods of time to help alleviate food shortages caused by violence and climate shocks. In the past two months, the WFP reached 80,000 people in the Pibor region.
However, food aid alone is not a solution to bringing peace to South Sudan. Tackling the deeply ingrained isolation and inequality that often lead to conflict, poverty and hunger must go beyond immediate food needs. The WFP aims to create an environment for South Sudanese communities by creating alternative livelihoods that enable people to earn a living and live in peace.
Too much time on their hands
To reach the remote city, we took a motorboat across the Pibor River. The skipper checks the fuel and soon we are gliding over smooth water at speed. Large trees and bushes line the muddy banks. When the rays of the sun glisten on the water and birds float in the sky, one can almost forget that under this beguiling landscape lie long-term conflicts, deep hunger and bitter poverty.
Credit: The banks of the WFP / Musa Mahadi Likuangole are lined with sinking houses, surrounded by children swimming to cool off in murky high water and women washing clothes. Without infrastructure, the city is bare, with no clearly marked streets, which makes movement almost impossible. The residents use muddy paths and go around puddles.
Surrounded by swamps, pastureland contaminated with standing water from this year’s floods, and with no schools or qualifications, young men are left with very little to do. Bored and restless, they race up and down the dirt road. With no work or social contact, these young men see no other option but to join gangs to catch cattle from other communities. In this scarce environment, raiding cattle is becoming one of the few ways to become socially mobile and achieve the social status required for marriage.
With the exception of a primary school, there are no secondary schools or educational institutions. Illiteracy and a lack of learning mean that children remain inactive and their potential is wasted. “We need schools in which the children learn and have the knowledge to live peacefully,” says Martha. More than 2.2 million South Sudanese children are out of school.
At the end of the barren market stands a young man in his thirties who told us that his hometown needs more than just drops of air. “Can you teach us how to be a carpenter?” he asks, adding that woodworking is a popular livelihood for men in Likuangole.
Another man nearby spoke up: “Your food helps us survive, but a job would give us a future.” The residents who were scattered around the quiet market now joined our group and offered more ideas at. To avoid the flooded areas they live in, the nearby towns of Boma and Labarab – a two to four day walk away – could host the training workshops necessary for carpentry. Both cities remain drier than most of their surrounding areas all year round.
Credit: WFP / Musa Mahadi It was encouraging to listen to residents striving for a better life. Creating more livelihoods in and around remote hotspots like Likuangole will lay the foundations for independence and stability.
In other, less polluted areas in South Sudan, the WFP is creating alternative livelihoods for young people by training young men and women to build up large amounts of community wealth, for example roads to connect their villages to local markets or dykes to control floods . These access roads provide opportunities for isolated communities by connecting them to economically vibrant areas.
Investing in such training programs that provide people with the skills to build critical assets like wells and multi-purpose ponds has helped reduce the struggles between communities for valuable water resources. These livelihoods offer dividends. On the one hand, it frees the villages from isolation and the resulting poverty when livelihoods are limited or non-existent. In addition, it gives local communities a chance to put their heads and hands together and work on a unified project that benefits the collective and harnesses a sense of connectedness that can be an antidote to violence.
There is a carpentry market in Likuangole, the two young men told me. Basic furniture is needed by families, while the forests provide plenty of trees that men and women look for for firewood. A carpentry project as such would involve the idle youngsters and unemployed men and thus fight inequality and isolation and give people the independence to generate their own income. Even in times of desperate humanitarian need and catastrophic food insecurity, these critical livelihoods must continue to operate. They go hand in hand with food aid to prevent the rapid deterioration in humanitarian conditions.
Credit: WFP / Musa Mahadi For 2021, humanitarian organizations need to go beyond emergency relief and set up their livelihood programs in the Pibor region, as there is unprecedented food insecurity there and there are few livelihood opportunities. For South Sudan to flourish, if we are serious about helping the South Sudanese build a prosperous future for themselves, we must not lose sight of our contribution to peacebuilding programs that must grow and last year round.
Conclusion: If donor governments are serious about helping South Sudan, they must invest in early development projects and support the livelihoods of the WFP. Food rations alone will only serve to create dependency and this is not a sustainable approach for the emerging country.
The author is an official of the World Food Program and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.
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