Ethiopia: Helping South Sudanese refugees to survive

04-07-2014 Feature

The Ethiopia Red Cross Society, assisted by the ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Swiss Red Cross Society, is responding to the urgent needs of thousands of South Sudanese refugees who have fled the fighting in South Sudan.

Nyahok, a South Sudan refugee, collects firewood and bars of soap with which to care for her five-month-old baby and three other children. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/ERCS/B. Gezahegne

Nyahok, 27 and a mother of four children, is one of many women who line up to collect firewood and bars of soap at the Ethiopia Red Cross distribution site at Leitchour refugee camp, located in the Gambella Regional State some 900 km from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Holding her five-month-old baby in her arms, Nyahok explained the reason for her journey to the camp: “When the violence started near my home town, Malakal, we had to leave our village for safety. It took me ten days to walk here with my children, always without enough food and water. As a breast-feeding mother, the lack of food put the life of my little baby in danger. I am the only one who can care for my four children. I don't know where my husband is and I have no one to help me. All the responsibility has fallen on me.”

South Sudanese refugees collect firewood and bars of soap at the Red Cross distribution site at Leitchour refugee camp.CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/ERCS/B. Gezahegne

A tough task

One of the most urgently needed items for preparing food in the refugee community is firewood. But finding firewood is a very tough task, sometimes meaning a five-kilometre walk – which is especially hard on pregnant, physically disabled, elderly and lactating women.

At the Red Cross distribution site, volunteers, including members of the Refugee Council, were busy distributing the firewood to the most vulnerable groups of refugees. Each household receives 72 kg of firewood, in two rounds, enough to last for a month. In a programme aimed at assisting 2,600 families, to make the utilization of firewood more efficient, fuel-saving stoves are also handed out.

As more refugees cross from South Sudan into Ethiopia to escape the fighting, ICRC, Ethiopia Red Cross and other Red Cross Movement staff and volunteers are working hard to provide proper hygiene, water, sanitation, household items and emergency health care.

“When I arrived at this camp, one of the difficulties I faced was getting firewood to cook food for my children,” said Nyahok. “To collect firewood, either I had to travel long distances carrying my baby or ask somebody to find some. It was really hard. But now as the Red Cross is providing us with wood, it is easing my burden. Getting bars of soaps here in the camps is also difficult but thanks to the Red Cross I can keep my family clean.”