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Southern Sudan: Is food or cash most helpful to families in need?

I moved to Wau, Sudan for a few days to conduct a market survey. We’re looking at what’s available in the local markets to see if we can buy more of the items we distribute locally. There were more products and services available than I was expecting, as Wau is quite a large town with tarmac roads and a number of large churches and mosques. The compound in Wau, with brick buildings to sleep in and ceiling fans, felt luxurious after living in tents in Malualkon. They even have toilets with a seat – something I have not seen since leaving Juba, the regional capital of Southern Sudan.

Travel by road in Southern Sudan is rarely a comfortable experience. The road we were on is in relatively good condition, but still bumpy. Along the way we saw loads of monkeys trying to cross the road, which were very funny. We passed a borehole being drilled and a local market where cows and goats were being sold but mostly the scenery was just trees with the odd village of tukuls [mud huts with thatched roofs]. After four hours the bumps were getting on my nerves, my bottom was numb and I had a headache from the rattle of the seats. I was very relieved when we arrived in Malualkon.

Today, I got to see some of our work first-hand as I helped with a cash distribution to families identified by our project staff as being at-risk. This programme has two parts – some people receive cash for community works they have carried out, like helping to build roads. Others are receiving cash because they are disabled.

Many had walked a long way to be there — consequently the distributions are only done once a month. We arrived to find neat queues of men and women waiting patiently to receive their envelope. It all went very smoothly — the queues moved slowly forward with a great sense of order and calm.

My role was to double check the quantity of cash in the envelope to make sure there had been no mistakes. My table processed over 300 people. It took hours, but the time went very quickly.

The women were dressed in amazingly colourful clothing, although the men wore more somber colours. Once the distribution was over the crowds slowly started to make their way home. We packed up and returned to the office.

On our way through Malualkon we observed another agency distributing food to people which really brought home to me the difference between food distributions and cash distributions. In this instance, as soon as the beneficiaries were out of sight of their distribution point they began to sell the grain they had received to other villagers on the road so that they had some cash to buy what they really needed. This was a clear illustration that, in the current circumstances in Malualkon, cash distributions are most beneficial because people can use the cash directly to buy the essentials then need for their family to survive.

Read more about our work in Southern Sudan.

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