Seeds of Change for Thousands of Abyei Displaced

Thousands of displaced persons from Abyei collect food rations in a makeshift camp in Turalei, southern Sudan. (File Photo - May 27, 2011)
Thousands of displaced persons from Abyei collect food rations in a makeshift camp in Turalei, southern Sudan. (File Photo - May 27, 2011)
Hannah McNeish

More than 100,000 people fled to South Sudan from Abyei, a contested, oil-rich area occupied by Sudanese troops in May 2011.

Almost a year later, they find themselves nearly destitute after missing harvests and exhausting the scant resources of local communities in the newly-independent, but impoverished south. The International Committee of the Red Cross is trying to help them rebuild their lives.

Scarce food

Akec Dut is one of hundreds of women pressed into patches of shade under trees bearing the bitter, prune-shaped lalop fruit in the village of Nyintar, where food is becoming increasingly scarce before the planting season.

As she gnaws on a lalop to try and stave off what has become an almost constant hunger, Dut says that her husband has been begging various relatives for a few dollars to buy grain for their five children since they fled Abyei violence 11 months ago.

“The life here in Agok is so difficult after leaving Abyei," said Dut. "Only what we are depending on now is you just go and sell your goods, when some traders come around with maize, you just go and buy, and if you have relatives you go and ask. That’s why my husband has gone to Agok; to ask some relatives to give.”

Displaced women gather to collect water from a water hole near Jamam refugee camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile State, March 10, 2012.
Displaced women gather to collect water from a water hole near Jamam refugee camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile State, March 10, 2012.
After seeing her crops and house burnt down and fleeing bullets “in the red light” of dawn to come here, Dut is too scared to go back to Abyei. The area was supposed to have a referendum last year on whether to join Sudan or South Sudan. But the poll never happened because of disputes over who was eligible to vote, and Sudan then took over the region by force.

Dut hopes today she will receive the tools to feed her family well and carve out a small existence in South Sudan until one day there is peace.

“If I get seeds, that’s what will make my life," she said. "Because I will cult[ivate] if I have access to harvest, so I will sell the rest and I will change my diet if possible. Now, we are only depending on the leaves of the trees and Lalop.”

While the U.N. estimates around 110,000 Dinka Ngok people ethnically linked to South Sudan came to southern villages, many residents fled for fear of violence spreading south, meaning that harvests were ruined.

Andrea Anselmi, Economic Security Delegate for the ICRC, says that only around 10 percent of Nyintar’s residents harvested anything last year.

Dwindling resources

Anselmi says survival options in these villages are limited, and the mass influx of people from Abyei has put further pressure on meager local resources.

“They are relying on the host community, so the people that stayed here and maybe had some harvest," said Anselmi. "They were fishing but at the moment the river is almost dry, they rely on wild vegetables and wild fruits, and in many places they are just collecting firewood and making charcoal to sell these things to the market.”

In Nyinatar, the ICRC is giving out tools and seeds to over 200 needy families to grow grains and vegetables, and a half ration of food for up to three weeks to give people the energy to plant and resist eating the seeds.

The scheme will help thousands more people in surrounding villages to start rebuilding their lives.


At another distribution center in the village of Abothok, local administrator Kat Kuol says that around 6,000 people arrived here from Abyei, pushing the local population to over 10,000.

He says that for now, relatives and aid agencies such as the U.N. World Food Program are filling the gap, but that resources will be strained until these people can cultivate themselves.

Back in Nyintar, Aciei Arop’s spriteliness belies her age, as she gathers large sacks of food and rigorously checks that all her seeds are there.

She says that her family has been surviving on one cup of sorghum per day, but now she will have enough to feed her five children and also sell at local markets.

"It will change my life as I’m going to cultivate, and when the outcome of what I have cultivated comes, I will get a variety of items that I will also eat at home, so that I can sell some of those things so that I can change my life," said Arop.

Sudan and South Sudan are holding talks to settle several major issues, including the route of their border and the long-term fate of Abyei. The talks have been marked by tension and lack of progress.  For now, seeds and tools may be the best hope for Abyei's former residents to rebuild their lives.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs