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Can hope be restored in Akobo?

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the influx of returnees when I arrived at Akobo centre in southern Sudan. It was my fourth visit and this time things had changed drastically. Many people had travelled to Akobo in barges from Khartoum.

Tears nearly rolled down my cheeks when I saw many women and their children were staying on the open ground with no shelter. The men had gone looking for relatives to host them until they receive resettlement assistance after years of exile in the north. Some children were crying for food while others played around with the possessions they came with. I saw one women approach a visitor and say “Kawaja, (local name for a white person irrespective of their gender) give me something to eat.” He got a packet of biscuits from his handbag and gave these to the woman. She immediately distributed them to her children who came running at the sight of the biscuits and surrounded the mother. The woman was very happy that she had something for her children to eat.

Akobo has been among the hungriest places on earth. Crop yields failed due to prolonged drought and many residents are scared to cultivate for fear of being killed or abducted by their neighbouring tribe, with whom they have a traditional cattle-raiding conflict. Recently this conflict changed its trend from just cattle raiding to include the killing and abduction of children and women.

Malnutrition rates have been very high since the beginning of 2010. Save the Children has since then set up an outpatient therapeutic feeding programme, providing food for malnourished children at two centres. Many southerners in the north decided to return ahead of the referendum, and people will continue to return in the coming months.

The increased number of people will likely add a considerable challenge to the life-saving feeding work Save the Children is running in the area. However collective efforts of agencies like Save the Children, individuals and well-wishers could yet restore hope to the thousands of returnees and the host community in the region.

500,000 southern Sudanese children face months of hardship and hunger as families return home – find out more

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