Children and youth at a cattle camp near Rubkona, South Sudan.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has experienced flooding for the last four years with devastating effects for its population. In Unity State for example, which is located in the north and borders Sudan, over 40% of the inhabitants have been forced to flee their homes. The flooding has also had a significant impact on livestock production: Hundreds of thousands of animals have died in the past years and livestock keepers had to move their animals to remote areas with limited pasture, leading to the exhaustion of their remaining herds. The disruption of crop cultivation and livestock production has resulted in a precarious food and nutrition situation, endangering human lives.

Last February, in my position as Manager of the VSF-Suisse South Sudan programme, I embarked on a mission to visit our projects and assess the impact of flooding on livestock production and animal health services in the region at first hand. After landing in the capital Juba and a quick visit to our Country Office, I soon after found myself on a United Nations’ airplane heading to the remote town of Rubkona in Unity State.

The floods destroyed houses and infrastructure.

Despite the many challenges the people face in this part of the country, from natural and human-made disasters to a lack of basic infrastructure such as paved roads, internet and housing, what struck me the most was their resilience and the positive change their commitment brings to their communities.

The case of Community Animal Health Workers

One such example are the Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) who have been trained by VSF-Suisse since 1995 and are providing essential animal health services. These groups of CAHWs include both literate and illiterate people, and have been crucial during the current flooding, as they are responsible for protecting most of the remaining livestock through vaccination and deworming. Some have even set up their own pharmacies to provide veterinary medicine to livestock keepers.

However, the CAHWs themselves are facing several challenges. They lack protective gear and other equipment, and have limited access to drugs and only receive sporadic incentives for their work. Additionally, there is a high dropout rate among their technical supervisors, and there is a constant need for more training. Some strategically placed pharmacies were looted and collapsed due to conflict.

James Manyrob Thail stocking the shelves of his pharmacy.

Shortly after my arrival in Rubkona, I spoke with James Manyrob Thail, a CAHW and pharmacy owner who procures drugs from Juba and sells them to other CAHWs and livestock keepers. He also works as an informal inspector to promote basic hygiene to the meat processing businesses. Meat inspection is paid for in a joint effort by the traders and the ministry of animal resources. Mr. Manyrob led me to a butcher shop down the road, where I met its owner, John Baliak. He buys a cow and a goat from the auction in the town’s centre every day. His most pressing problem is the lack of adequate equipment, including a fridge.

Animals mean livelihoods

The livestock auction in the central square just before the rush of visitors.

The livestock auction in Rubkona is a lively and well attended event. The traders told me that the prices had gone down due to the modest body condition of the animals due to the lack of pasture and fodder because of the flooding. Seeing a chance for a little bit of business, some of the boys from the IDP (Internally Displace People) camp collect bundles of grass in the flooded areas and sell them at the auction after school.

James Gatyang Ruai in his pharmacy.

Later in the evening I met another CAHW and pharmacy owner, James Gatyang Ruai, who normally buys veterinary drugs from Juba and sometimes from neighboring Sudan. Since the few roads are not always accessible, getting enough supplies proves impossible at times. Mr. Gatyang loves animals and used to own cattle himself, but they all died. The work as a CAHW and pharmacist allows for a much-needed alternative source of income for his family.

Visiting a cattle Camp

The cattle camp near Rubkona.

Early next morning we visited a cattle camp, a place where pastoralist families take their cattle during the dry season and stay with them day and night. At night the animals stay close together and during the day they wander the area and graze. The boys usually herd the cattle, and the girls do the milking, sorghum (type of cereal) grinding, and other chores. The camp faces many challenges, most evidently the flooding that restricts movement, the limited pasture and the low milk supply, but also animal health concerns such as Tse Tse fly infestations, CCPP disease, and liver flukes. There is an urgent need for more drugs and insect repellent for the remaining animals to survive and improve their health.

Angelina Nyakama Jaw…

Exactly this is the mission of Angelina Nyakama Jaw, a 30-year-old CAHW who lives in an IDP camp in Rubkona. She received her CAHW training in 2014 and VSF-Suisse has since provided her with regular refresher trainings. Angelina treats all livestock, but she prefers poultry, sheep and goats, as these are traditionally kept by women and she believes she can handle them better than the male CAHWs. She is eager to broaden her knowledge with further training and more refreshers. As all the CAHWs in the region, Angelina would like to work more, but is restricted by the low ability of pastoralist communities to pay for her services, the reduced availability of drugs, and the limited number of vaccination/treatment campaigns facilitated by humanitarian actors.

…deworming cows at the Cattle Camp.

After an intense couple of days with many inspiring encounters, I flew back to Juba, and later to Switzerland. I experienced a country that still struggles with the aftermath of the civil war from 2013-2018. A country that suffers from a lack of infrastructure and governance. A country that has been plagued by flooding and all its devastating effects on its people’s lives and their animals. But most importantly I experienced a country of hopeful and resilient communities, of people with visions and actions for a better future.

Sara Imbach visiting the Cattle Camp.

Text: Sara Imbach, Philipp Hayoz

Photos: Sara Imbach

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