The weather was so hot in the remote town in South Sudan where I have been camping over the past week, that the glue holding my Timberland boots together melted.

These industrial troopers have seen this reporter through Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Iraq. But on Thursday they died in a South Sudanese February, leaving me flopping back through the bush to camp.

This isn’t an important detail. But it might go some way to describe the extreme environment that people here grapple with every day.

In South Sudan, it is the women’s job to fetch water.

In areas like Manyabol, which is only accessible by helicopter and a half day’s cross-country drive, women walk for up to nine hours a day in flip-flops or barefoot in the punishing heat just to fetch water in jerrycans that are near impossible to lift off the ground, let alone balance on your head.

The women told me they complete these arduous journeys surviving only on wild fruit found in the barren bush. I tried lalop this week, it has little flesh, you basically suck out bitter juice, it gives you diarrhoea if you eat too many.

Sitting on the floor, melting into the dirt of a mud hut, it was hard to understand how everyone I was talking to was still alive.

And the answer from the women is that they are barely surviving. Most hadn’t eaten in four days.

These remote areas have suffered after a brutal five-year civil war, which was formally ended in September with a peace deal signed between the country’s president, Salva Kiir, and rebel leader Riek Machar.

And while the fighting has largely died down, except for skirmishes with rebel groups who didn’t sign the agreement, the humanitarian crisis is actually growing.

More people – around two-thirds of the population – are in need of assistance this year, which is more than last year.

The problem is the humanitarian response programme isn’t fully funded (it only raised two-thirds of what it needed in 2018).

Furthermore, South Sudan has dropped out of the news because of the assumption that peace means all must be well.

Other conflicts like Syria have instead gripped the attention of the general public in the UK.

And while these catastrophes are important too, I think it is a foreign correspondent’s responsibility to keep shining a light on other tragedies that have slipped out of the news cycle.

The news can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: whatever appears to generate the most interest from the readership ends up being the most closely followed, which creates interest and so it goes on.

And so I hope this week The Independent’s series from the ground here in South Sudan, will be a small part of changing that.


Bel Trew

Middle East correspondent


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