When VWB arrived in Maban County, South Sudan in April of 2013, a humanitarian crisis was already 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 as many as 350,000 animals with them, and those animals presented both a threat and an opportunity for the human population.
For VWB and its partner, Vétérinaires san frontièrs Germany, the immediate need was to keep animals alive and to reduce the spread of disease among animals and between animals and people. Secondly, people were in desperate need of food, yet the food potential of the animals in their midst was not being realized. Animals were being allowed to waste away and die. As well the scarcity of resources was bringing animal owners into conflict over water and grazing land.
The Importance of Livestock
The problem was partly a cultural one. In Sudan, livestock – particularly cattle – hold significance beyond their practical, utilitarian value. They are described as "walking bank accounts", a form of cultural currency that defines a family's wealth and standing in the community, and are often the only acceptable currency for important transactions such as marriage dowries. The challenge for VWB was to implement a system that would provide a fair and dignified income for animal owners, while converting unproductive animal assets into food for thousands of hungry people. The only way to achieve that objective was to start with thoughtful consultations with the people involved – both host communities and refugee camps.
Protecting Human Health by Addressing Animal Health
Addressing the health threats posed by several hundred thousand animals, many in poor health, was a top priority for everyone. VWB'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 also 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 became available and the centres have become the reference point for livestock owners looking for advice or assistance.
Using Available Livestock to Address Food Shortages
The second focus involved converting livestock resources to food for some of the most vulnerable people of the county. Two hygienic slaughter facilities were built in the refugee camps, butchers were also identified and trained, and using a voucher system 4500 of the most vulnerable households received meat over a 10 week period. VWB also provided chickens to approximately 250 women-headed households, a first step in re-establishing sustainable livelihoods and improved nutrition. A new project in two other regions of South Sudan is taking a longer-term approach to food security.
*VWB/VSF's work in South Sudan is undertaken with funding from the Government of Canada provided through Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development Canada.