Human Interest Story in Bentiu

BENTIU, South Sudan – The 2014 rainy season brought devastating flooding to the Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) camp in Unity State, South Sudan, where thousands of families have sought refuge from an escalating civil war. For the displaced families that had fled to the camp, many of which had travelled by foot for days, with little or no food, the confinement to flooded shelters represented another blow dealt by the brutal war that had devoured their communities. 

Deborah Bayang and her nine children moved to the camp in June 2014. They moved from Bentiu town, which, as a key supplies hub and the capital of oil-producing Unity State, has been a flashpoint for armed violence since the conflict broke out. While offering respite for her family from the conflict outside, Deborah recalls the floods in 2014 as a harrowing experience.

“People were sleeping in water…. It was very difficult. Children were put on the beds and the elders did not sleep. They passed the night scooping water from the shelters. The conditions were very bad; children were getting sick”. Few shelters were untouched by the flooding, which also caused major damage to facilities such as water infrastructure and often prevented access to nutrition and health centres. Nearly 180 latrines collapsed in the flooding in October, leaving people with little option but to defecate in the open.

The flooding also greatly limited the ability of aid agencies to respond to needs, which were growing by the day with new arrivals at the camp. Without dry space, the construction of new shelters and facilities was impossible. Furthermore, the combination of insecurity and poor road networks meant that the transportation of materials and supplies for the emergency response was a major challenge. In light of this experience, it was clear that aid agencies needed to collaborate and act swiftly to prepare for the 2015 rainy season.

Children playing outside a newly constructed Robust Emergency Shelter in the extension area, June 2015

In early 2015 humanitarian agencies in the Bentiu PoC sites began implementation of a monumental site redevelopment project, which would see the expansion of the camp and a major upgrade of the site involving the levelling of land and the construction of large-scale drainage infrastructure.

As part of the project, Concern embarked on an ambitious initiative to construct 8,000 upgraded Robust Emergency Shelters (RES). The new shelters, which were developed by Concern with the involvement of camp residents, were designed to improve living conditions in the camp and to provide resistance to the environmental challenges that residents faced, including rains, flooding, wind, high temperatures, and termites. Elements of the shelter, including the windows and doors, were based on traditional local designs.

The new shelter owners were also involved in their construction. While the basic structures were constructed by Concern’s construction teams, residents were responsible for completing them using materials provided by Concern. “It was very easy”, said Deborah. “My son put up the plastic sheeting and the bamboo on the roof, and I added the grass myself.”

Deborah Bayang and her family in their new shelter in the Bentiu PoC sites, June 2015

For families like Deborah’s, the new shelters have led to a significant improvement in living conditions. “We are very happy. The roof is higher, there are more materials and there is more space. It reminds us of our own house”.