Q+A: How to survive in Bentiu

South Sudan

August 14, 2014

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  • People fill up their water buckets at a Mercy Corps water point in Bentiu camp. People in the camps rely on this water for washing, bathing, and cooking. Photos: Javanshir Hajiyev for Mercy Corps

When Osee Mbusa, Mercy Corps’ emergency water and sanitation engineer, first arrived in Bentiu, South Sudan, the rain began to fall. He said the rains haven’t let up much since.

Osee arrived in April, when the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, along with a handful of other groups including Mercy Corps, was supporting around 8,000 displaced people living in Bentiu camps.

Today, resources are stretched thin to accommodate and meet the needs of more than 40,000 people who are displaced.

Osee joined Mercy Corps' team in South Sudan 5 months ago, and has more than 10 years of experience as an engineer specializing in water, sanitation and hygiene.

He has worked on emergency response in Congo, where he grew up, and Haiti, but he said this is the worst situation he has seen yet.

Q: Why did the camp in Bentiu grow so quickly?

People came in waves. Opposition and government forces were fighting near the town and people fled to find safety in the camp when fighting broke out. But people just kept coming. The camp numbers grew. Sometimes people arrive in groups of 100 or more a day.

People are fleeing war, but it is more than that. Everything has been destroyed and looted in towns outside the camp. Children can’t go to school because soldiers are living in empty classrooms. People don’t have latrines. People don’t have water. People don’t have food. People have nowhere else to go.

Osee directs the Mercy Corps water truck driver on his delivery, which serves households, camp hospitals, and schools.

Q: What do people need?

The more people came the more we struggled to provide services. We need resources to continue to build drainage for the camp so we can help decrease the flooding. We need to build more space for incoming people. We need to build more latrines and continue our water trucking. We are preparing to build 240 new latrines.

The rains are so strong that the latrines keep collapsing. We have to build them and decommission them and then build them again because there are so many people living in the camp now — 240 latrines are not enough. Right now the risks of preventable disease are high with the flooding. Sewage is mixing with the water and this is very dangerous for the people living there.

Q: What do people do with their time in the camps?

There isn’t much to do. These people have lost everything. Some people go outside to collect firewood or do small trade, but it's dangerous for them to leave the protection of the camp.

People need jobs and a way to provide for their families, but there are no jobs for them. Our hygiene and sanitation work employs local people who live in the camp, so we are able to create income for some households.

An influx of new people arrive at the camp in Bentiu. Many families must wait for hours before they are given shelter materials and a space to set up camp.

Q: What does the future hold for displaced people in Bentiu?

We are extremely concerned about the situation. This is the time people should be planting so they can harvest in the later months. All of these people living here are not planting. I’m worried about what happens when harvest time comes and there is no food.

I think there will be more hunger and we will see many more people come to Bentiu looking for help.

The need for water and sanitation will not stop. This is a two or five year problem. We need to do more than just work in the camps. We need resources to go out into the rural areas and start helping people there.

Q: What is the hardest part about working in Bentiu?

In Bentiu everything is a challenge – food, communications, logistics, human resources, now more rain…everything. Every day you are under stress.

The first day I arrived, I had to sleep in a bunker because the parties in conflict started to fight. I will never forget that day. I wanted to go home.

But now I am strong. I know that I’m meant to be here with Mercy Corps.

How you can help

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