Bringing hope to a war torn country
Photo: Simon and Shannon Holding
by Nath Fauveau
A Vancouver couple is working with the international emergency relief and recovery organization Medair in what is currently one of the worst humanitarian crises. Simon and Shannon Holding are responding to the needs of conflict-affected people in South Sudan by increasing access to life-saving drinking water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene training.
Two years of fighting have forced more than 2.3 million people in South Sudan to flee from their homes into camps, the bush, or across borders. Numerous people fled to remote areas, including the swamps of South Sudan, which are also dangerous as they are frequented by hippos and crocodiles. Being hard to reach provides them some protection, but also means that they do not have access to essential services. With very few possessions with them, and hardly any food, people have nowhere to go when they get sick, and have only untreated swamp water to drink.
“One of the major contributors to illness and death in South Sudan, particularly for children, is lack of safe drinking water, sanitation facilities and hygiene knowledge,” says Shannon Holding, Medair’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Advisor. “Even before the conflict started in December 2013, many South Sudanese did not have access to proper WASH services. The large-scale violence, massive displacements, and economic decline of the past several years have significantly exacerbated the scale of that need.”
Millions of South Sudanese are currently exposed to life-threatening water-related illnesses such cholera and acute watery diarrhea. Most people lack access to a safe water source, with an estimated 93 per cent of people lacking access to a toilet/latrine (ranked the worst in the world). As the rainy season progresses, the risk of a disease outbreak is significantly increased.
“The needs are higher than ever. The many displaced and often traumatized people are in desperate need of the support Medair provides. We are grateful to be a part of helping people survive this difficult time and also letting them know that they are not forgotten,” says Simon Holding, who manages Medair’s Emergency Response WASH team. This team responds to the most critical needs throughout the country, often within the first 24 hours of a crisis developing.
Medair’s WASH teams work to bring much needed aid – from the heart of the swamps, reachable by wading through the water or using small wooden canoes, to the crowded displacement camps hosting thousands of people.
“The challenges are immense, but so is the hope,” adds Shannon. In the fight against illnesses, last year Medair supported over 200,000 people in South Sudan with safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. “Together, we at Medair go the extra mile to save lives and restore hope for the future. Any way that we can reduce their suffering and remind the people of South Sudan that they matter, makes it all worthwhile.”
The UN estimates that 5.1 million people in South Sudan need humanitarian assistance. Since the violence erupted in December 2013, the UN estimates that 2.3 million people have fled their homes, including 1.7 million who have been displaced within the country. About 678,000 South Sudanese have sought protection in refugee camps in Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda.
Medair continues to use its expertise gained from 21 years of aid experience in Sudan and South Sudan, and adapts its relief activities to provide emergency services to those in extremely vulnerable situations. Medair’s staff in South Sudan work tirelessly to help people survive the current crises, recover with dignity, and develop skills to build a better future. We provide life-saving health care, emergency nutrition services, safe drinking water, sanitary latrines, and protective shelter, to help people survive this desperate time.
This article was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff.