Abandoned in the borderlands

Longstanding humanitarian needs in South Sudan’s Aweil North County, where some 30,000 people are displaced, are largely unmet.

”Today, we don’t receive any help, because the buffer zone makes it very difficult for aid organizations to operate here,” Luka Akon Deng Lual, a community leader, told IRIN.

Aweil North lies in the so-called “14-Mile Area”, a supposedly demilitarized zone between South Sudan and Sudan.

More than three years after South Sudan seceded, the border between the two states remains in dispute. In 2012, Kiir Adem, one of the main towns in Aweil North, came under aerial bombardment, forcing many people to flee their homes.

Together with others who fled conflict in South Kordofan and Darfur (both in Sudan), the displaced live in makeshift settlements dotted along the River Kiir (known as the Bahr al-Ara in Arabic).

Clean drinking water and decent sanitation are scarce. Education and adequate health care are almost non-existent. Irregular rain during the latter half of 2014 means this year’s crops are likely to fail.

“People need to see things improving, but they don’t. Instead, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating. It’s already a very serious situation, and it’s expected to get even worse,” said Albert Stern of medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières, which runs one of the few health facilities in the area.

Every week, the small clinic admits around 1,500 patients. Some have walked for many miles, and many are critically ill. But many come too late to receive the help they need.

Inside a small hut not far from the river, 27-year-old Aciriin Deng lay on a bed of straw, heavily pregnant, and worried about her unborn child.

“I haven’t felt any movements since yesterday,” she said.

The day before, she was queuing at the only borehole in the village. There was a scramble under the hot sun, and everyone was pushing and shoving to get to the water. Aciriin fell over as someone kicked her in the back.

Living far away from a health facility, she can only pray that her baby is well. Even if she would endure the journey, several bumpy hours on the back of a motorbike, Aciriin does not have money for transport.

”Several women have lost their babies because something happened during pregnancy. We need health care, but there is none,” she says.

Her husband left to find a job in Sudan to be able to support the family.

“I’m worried about him as we haven’t heard from him since he left six months ago,” said Aciriin.

For the first few months of the latest civil conflict in South Sudan, which broke out in December 2013, this part of the country was peaceful.

But according to a recent report by the Small Arms Survey, the start of the dry season raises the likelihood of it becoming a front line between government and armed opposition forces.

View the narrated slideshow.

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