World Refugee Day – displacement in South Sudan

Today is World Refugee Day and the The UN Refugee Agency has announced that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time since World War II, exceeded 50 million people. Its annual report on the global displacement situation shows that 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2013 – 6 million more than in 2012.

“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Peace is today dangerously in deficit.”

Undoubtedly, one of the countries contributing to this dramatic increase is South Sudan, where an estimated 1.3 million people have had to flee their homes as a result of the conflict that began last year. Peace talks in Ethiopia have so far failed to stop the fighting, and numerous ceasefire deals have collapsed. Thanks to our South Sudan appeal, we have been able to provide emergency relief to the leprosy community in Juba. Food, blankets and agricultural tools were distributed to around 500 people.

Emergency aid is distributed to the Luri Rokwe leprosy community in Juba, South Sudan.
Emergency aid is distributed to the Luri Rokwe leprosy community in Juba, South Sudan.
emergency aid
Displaced persons with disabilities have many additional needs which can make life even more challenging and full of hardship.

But in neighbouring Jonglei State, many residents of the leprosy community of Malek are still living in temporary shelters on an island in the river Nile, displaced from their own homes. At the beginning of February we received the sad news that two women from the village were killed. They were severely disabled and unable to flee their homes with the rest of their community. One of these women has been named as Mary Nydiang Chuck. The village’s chief, Gabriel Maduor, was also shot, but survived.

This month, TLM’s country leader in South Sudan, Yousif Deng, has visited the community – his first visit since the conflict began and accessing Malek became impossible. In the nearby town of Bor, some NGOs are providing healthcare but access to the region is still limited. At the time of his visit, there were concerns about outbreaks of cholera – a major problem for many camps in South Sudan, where disease is rife and sanitation facilities are limited. Most of the population has been displaced, either internally, or to Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

“On 4 June, I managed to visit Malek leprosy village. Along the way there we saw burned cars, deserted houses, and burned down homes. There was a huge armed presence and several checkpoints,” Yousif told us.

Of the 38 residents of Malek that we met on a visit in 2013, just 13 now remain the village. Families have been separated as many people are still living on a nearby island across the river Nile. One of the residents we met in 2013 was Rachel Aluong Joh.

“I have lost my son during the crisis. I have not managed to see his grave,” she said.

Rachel went on to tell Yousif about the death of Mary Nydiang Chuck.

“We heard gunshots all over, and some armed men came running into our place. One young man was so angry; all of a sudden he started shooting randomly and it was unfortunate that Mary was shot and died. There were no young men to bury her – we were not able to dig a grave for her’’.

Rachel Aluong Joh, standing, speaks about the impact of the conflict on her community.
Rachel Aluong Joh, standing, speaks about the impact of the conflict on her community.

Yousif was able to provide some food to the community, but they still have many needs – food, blankets, cooking utensils and fishing nets so they can catch fish from the nearby river. There are no nearby healthcare facilities, and many people require medicines, bandages and dressings for the wounds that can be caused by lack of adequate self-care in people affected by leprosy. We will be providing food aid in the near future, and will continue to support those affected by leprosy as they attempt to rebuild their lives. World Refugee Day is a day to reflect not just on those displaced in South Sudan, but the many people affected by leprosy worldwide whose lives have been made even more challenging and fraught with danger as a result of conflict.

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Sanitation matters! Why toilets are a global development priority.

World Toilet Day

Yesterday the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to make access to sanitation for all a global development priority, designating 19 November as World Toilet Day.

The Assembly encouraged member states to implement policies to increase access to sanitation among the poor, and called for an end to people being forced to defecate in public, which it deemed “extremely harmful” to public health. In a statement, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said:

“This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.”

Only 4.5 billion out of 7 billion people worldwide have access to toilets or latrines – meaning that 2.5 billion people, mostly in rural areas, do not have proper sanitation. In addition, 1.1 billion people still have to defecate in the open, and it is in the countries where this is the norm that child mortality is high and that there are high levels of malnutrition and poverty.

Lack of sanitation facilities therefore impacts many wider issues. In addition to the burden of disease and an assault on dignity, women and girls often risk rape or abuse when they have to use areas that are unsafe or unsheltered.

A woman affected by leprosy living in the slum in Ethiopia.
A woman affected by leprosy living in the slum in Ethiopia.

As part of our work in Ethiopia, Leprosy Mission staff have seen first-hand the impact that lack of access to sanitation facilities has on some of the world’s poorest people. Visiting Addis Ababa in 2012, we visited one slum with a population of 24,000 – with 500 people affected by disabilities including those caused by leprosy, where there was just one toilet for every 120 people. With no access to showers and waste disposal facilities,  people living there are severely affected by disease and child mortality is high.

Another view of the slum showing stagnant water - a breeding ground for disease.
Another view of the slum showing stagnant water – a breeding ground for disease.

Our new Slum Development project there will build new toilet blocks and renovate old ones, build new shower blocks, provide waste disposal systems, renovate houses, and provide health and hygiene training. Some of this work will also provide livelihood opportunities for residents. With enthusiastic support from the community, it’s hoped that the project will have a major, lasting impact and transform many lives.

Between 1990 and 2011, over 240,000 people a day gained access to improved sanitation facilities worldwide. But with 2.5 billion people still lacking facilities that we take for granted, the resolution adopted by the UN yesterday is an important step forward and one that we’re pleased to be supporting through our work.

Walkies – Stage 16

Porthcothan – Newquay (11.1 miles)
Distance from Minehead – 191.5 miles / Distance toPoole– 442.3 miles

I have spent today in a cloud. Unlike the fluffy balls of cotton wool that they look like from an aeroplane, clouds are actually just made up of tiny droplets of water (or ice for the cloud geeks amongst you).

See, I see no sea!!

I set off from Porthcothan in cloudy and rainy conditions, which, unsurprisingly, got significantly worse as I climbed up onto the headland. In the cloud with me were a herd of cows – which I only noticed shortly before I walked into one! Visibility was so poor that on several occasions I found myself following what I thought was the path, only to end up at the very edge of a high cliff. Retracing my steps I tried another path. It was difficult to discern where the cow paths were and where the walkers path was. To be honest I was scared. I am a fairly experienced walker and I am certainly familiar with poor visibility weather conditions (coming from Bodmin Moor you learn quickly!!) but I was on unfamiliar territory, I was cold and wet, and my maps and compass were little use with no visible points of reference to help.

Eventually I found my way to a National Trust place at Bedruthan Steps. Here a lovely man let the sopping wet Toby and I into the café (despite dogs not being allowed) and when he heard what we were doing, he gave me a free hot chocolate! It may have been a small and simple gesture, but it made my day. It helped me to face the fog and wind and rain once again and set off on my way towards Newquay.

Mother Theresa famously spent her days serving the people of the slums of Calcutta. Having visited these slums I have a great deal of respect and admiration for this humble servant of God. When asked why she bothered when her efforts were a mere drop in the ocean, she replied that the ocean would be less without that drop. Basically the ocean comprises of lots and lots of tiny drops. Just as a cloud does. On its own the individual drop may seem powerless, but take it from someone who has come into contact with lots of individual drops of water today – add them together and you end up getting very wet!  

I ended the day in Newquay with a great ecumenical welcome committee at the house of Rachel and Mervyn Mitchell. Recently, on a trip toIndia, Rachel delivered a whole batch of brightly coloured pillowcases to The Leprosy Mission hospital at Dayapuram. This simple gesture not only brightened up the wards, but also gave the patients a sense of pride and worth as they spent time in hospital.

It struck me that on their own these small and simple gestures, such as Rachel’s pillowcases or the café-man’s free hot chocolate, may seem nice but ineffectual. But when you add them together, when we all do small random acts of kindness, then theKingdomofGodis truly at work in this world – and that is no small thing!

So my challenge to you today is to do a random act of kindness to someone– preferably someone you don’t know, and see how it brightens their day. Then keep doing them. It takes a while of being in a cloud to get truly soaked, but once you’re wet through you stay that way for a long time (no matter what the label on the fast drying trousers says!) and in the same way it will take a while for all our random acts of kindness to change the world and impact the lives of others, but when it does it will be a change worth having and one that will last for an eternity!