“The wind came and took everything,” said Marta Awili, a mother of five in one of South Sudan’s relief camps in the capital Juba.
In less than an hour what she had called home was washed away.
“I could see the clouds quickly gathering. I brought the children from the nearby school back to the house,” she said. “All of a sudden, there was thunder and the rain came down with so much force. My roof started leaking.”
“First, it was a mild breeze that rattled the roof,” she said. “But suddenly, a strong wind followed and blew it away.
“I remember grabbing the children and running for shelter under a tree at one corner of the camp. We just stayed there, watching everything being washed away by the water. Where else could we go?”
Over 30 houses were completely destroyed in just 30 minutes. Families would spend the night in the school.
Four months ago, Marta and her children had fled their home in Bor County in Jonglei State, north of the country, after it became the scene of a deadly war.
Marta’s family is one of 200 living in this camp in St Vincent de Paul Parish on the outskirts of South Sudan’s capital, Juba. They are now remnants of a civil war sparked off by political differences, forced to seek refuge in camps.
Makeshift camps no defense during rainy season
The St Vincent de Paul IDP camp has miniature makeshift shelters made of local materials like sticks and cloth, cramped together with little space to walk through. Household items remain sprawled on the ground as children play barefoot in puddles of water.
It is expected that the rains will continue for the next three months putting families here in the risk of floods and disease outbreaks. Food and clean water in the camp is also quickly depleting as more displaced families arrive.
Fr David Tulimuli, the parish priest and ‘camp manager’, says there is a need to act quickly.
“These people have come from a difficult situation, traumatised by the fighting and most have lost their loved ones,” he said. “Now with the destructive nature of these rains, it’s going to get even tougher for them.”
“As the Church, we are doing all we can to walk this difficult journey with the people of South Sudan by assisting them with food, shelter, medicine and education, with the support of aid organisations.”
As part of Caritas relief efforts, UK member CAFOD and the local Church have provided milk and biscuits for pregnant mothers and young children, as well as medicine in the camp. CAFOD has also supported 105 families with money, each receiving 360 South Sudanese Pounds (approx. USD 120) to cover for their daily needs.
“Families seeing their new houses washed away in minutes is heart wrenching. It shows how quickly the already severe situation for those who have fled their homes all over South Sudan can be compounded,” said CAFOD’s Jane Andanje.
Caritas plans to continue its response activities in badly affected areas as Kodok, Lul and Wau Shiluk in Upper Nile State, by providing essential materials as shelter, water and sanitation facilities, to an estimated 30,000 people.
“The South Sudan Catholic Church is working through Caritas to reach the most vulnerable, still holed up in hard to reach areas particularly in the northern states, still experiencing dangerous military action,” she said.