When VWB/VSF arrived in Maban County in April of 2013, a humanitarian crisis was well underway. With as many as 150,000 refugees in the area, international organizations were struggling to get food aid into the region through unreliable barge shipments up the Nile or expensive air drops. With the immediate focus on food for humans, the issue of livestock was not receiving much attention, yet refugees had brought some 350,000 animals with them —mostly cattle, sheep, and goats. Those animals were consuming scarce water and pasture and they were dying at an alarming rate, creating a whole new set of health hazards for the human population. To further complicate the situation, barely two years after the new country of South Sudan was created in 2011, and just months after VWB/VSF began its work there, the country descended into a new round of civil conflict.
Addressing Human survival through animal action
Addressing the health threats posed by several hundred thousand animals, many in poor health, was a top priority for everyone. In partnership with Vétérinaires sans frontières Germany, VWB/VSF’s response included a program of mass vaccinations, de-worming and treatment of diseased livestock targeting 150,000 animals in the four main refugee camps and the largest town in the county. To carry out this task, and to ensure that this work would continue after the project, VWB engaged 43 Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) – men and women with livestock knowledge trained to administer vaccinations and treat common animal diseases and injuries. VWB trained new recruits and provided additional training to some who were already working as CAHWs. In addition to the hands-on vaccination work, CAHWs provided training and guidance for animal owners to improve hygiene and to ensure proper disposal of dead animals in order to reduce the threat of zoonotic diseases – those that are passed from animals to humans.
To support the work of CAHWs, Animal Health Centres were set up in three of the refugee camps. Drugs and associated livestock products were available and the centres became the reference point for livestock owners looking for advice or assistance.
The second focus involved converting livestock resources to food for some of the most vulnerable people of the county. Given the cultural complications involved, the support of the communities was essential in this effort. One of the first priorities was to create two hygienic slaughter facilities in refugee camps – concrete pads with fences to keep out dogs and other animals. Butchers were also identified and trained to carry out the work in a safe and efficient manner. In consultation with the communities, animals were identified and purchased for slaughter, and using a voucher system the most vulnerable households were identified to receive meat over a 10 week period. Community leaders vetoed VWBs original plan to provide meat for 1000 families, opting instead for smaller portions for 4500 vulnerable families – including women-headed households and the elderly. VWB also provided chickens to approximately 250 women-headed households, a first step in re-establishing sustainable livelihoods and improved nutrition.
Despite what can only be described as daunting challenges – a precarious security situation, roads that became impassable during the rainy season, floods that inundated refugee camps, and great difficulties in getting properly refrigerated vaccines to the area, according to independent evaluators the project more than achieved its objectives including 151,000 animals vaccinated, dewormed, and treated for injury and infection, 43 CAHWs trained, 2 hygenic slaughter facilities built, 23 butchers trained, 19.7 metric tonnes of meat distributed to 4,645 vulnerable families, three community animal health centres established, and 243 women set up in poultry production.
The South Sudan Project was a one year humanitarian relief program, funded by the International Humanitarian Assistance Branch of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).