By John Tanza
In many homes around Jebel Boma County, dinner consists of bitter-tasting leaves that can be picked off the bushes outside. The leaves are neither filling nor nutritious, but in South Sudan’s Jebel Boma and Pochalla counties, there’s not much else to eat.
Through a combination of ruinous floods, a lack of decent roads and widespread insecurity, the two counties in the Upper Nile region, near the border with Ethiopia, have been effectively cut off from the rest of South Sudan and a reliable food supply.
This reporter visited the area during the last week of December and witnessed thousands of families who have no food and are surviving mainly on leaves or seeds distributed by aid agencies.
The governor of Boma state, David Yau Yau, told VOA’s South Sudan In Focus that he has been waiting to meet President Salva Kiir to discuss the dire humanitarian conditions in Boma state. Yau Yau says aid agencies should intervene to save lives of families who are starving.
‘’We knew the people are going to starve unless there are serious humanitarian interventions. We are opening our mouths more louder to be heard so that something is done for the people of Boma state. Otherwise, this looming starvation is imminent,” Yau Yau said during an interview in Juba.
The commissioner of Jebel Boma says if aid agencies wait too long to intervene, some people will die. Longony Alston says the floods that hit the area in September washed away crops and destroyed food storage for local farmers, exposing 58,000 families to starvation.
‘’All these 58,000 are suffering. In fact, some of the people went to Ethiopia during clashes [in 2013] and some of them came back [and] are facing this hunger in Jebel Boma,” he said.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) released in September 2019 estimated 5.35 million people in South Sudan — more than half the population — are in a state of food insecurity.
The situation has been bad since the start of South Sudan’s civil war in December 2013. Fighting has died down since a September 2018 peace agreement but not stopped.
Kiir’s envoy to Boma state, Akot Lual Arech, said the situation in several parts of the state is exacerbated by intercommunal violence that prevents the aid agencies from delivering services.
‘’There [are] no roads in the area and accessibility is very difficult. The problem is not only in Kachipo and Jie areas. If you go to Maban or Nasir, you will feel bad. It is because of the war that is taking place now. War and development cannot go together,” he said.
Arech says aid agencies have abandoned several villages in Boma state. “They see the window that we are fighting each other. So they don’t really, they don’t care. They will do whatever they desire to do,” he said.
The local chiefs and residents of Jebel Boma County say it is the government of South Sudan that has forgotten them. Nakou Lokine, a traditional chief in Naoyapuru village, said there is no health center in his village.
“We have no hospital here in Boma and when someone gets sick here in Boma, then we have to wait until a plane comes from Juba. Then the patient is taken to Juba. You can even see the children with your eyes; they are really suffering from sickness,” he said through an interpreter.
Residents of Pachalla County on the border with Ethiopia are also experiencing serious food insecurity. This reporter visited Pochalla county headquarters in December and saw deserted residential areas.
Munira Abdalwab, the member of parliament representing Pochalla in the transitional national assembly in Juba, said there is a lack of government services in search of clean drinking water, health services, education and security, in addition to food.
Traders in both Pochalla and Boma County have run out of stock in their shops because of poor conditions on roads connecting the two counties with Ethiopia and Juba.
Patrick Ochum Gilo was once a successful businessman in Pochalla. He says the exchange rate of a dollar to South Sudan pounds shot up, and that prevented him from importing goods from Ethiopia.
‘’I used to bring [import] everything. I had soap, sugar and other basic commodities. I also run a restaurant that had all kinds of food. The problem started when U.S. dollar became scarce and we have to buy goods from Ethiopia, and the cost of transportation from Gambella [Ethiopia] is very high.’’
The scarcity is now affecting Boma National Park, a protected area in eastern South Sudan near the Ethiopian border. Armed civilians and military personnel in Boma and Pochalla depend on game meat from the park for food. Alston says he has found it difficult to arrest poachers, because there is no food in the markets and none has come from the World Food Program or other agencies. (VOA)