KOCH, SOUTH SUDAN —
Aid agencies in South Sudan have resumed deliveries to areas that were cut off by the country's 20-month conflict, now that President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have signed a peace deal.
One of those areas is Koch County, in Unity state. The county seat -- the town of Koch -- has changed hands several times between government and opposition forces since fighting broke out in South Sudan in December 2013.
Roads, schools, health centers and markets were destroyed as the two sides fought for control of the town. People’s homes were burnt to the ground and their goats and cows – the source of their livelihood -- were stolen or killed.
Today, there is no livestock herding or farming activity in Koch, and thousands are going hungry, and have registered to receive food aid.
No aid for four months
On Friday, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) made the first delivery of humanitarian aid in four months to the town, where some people have been eating water lilies to stay alive.
WFP Country Representative Joyce Luma said the peace agreement that Mr Kiir signed on August 26 – and Machar signed nine days before him – finally gives aid agencies the chance to help desperate South Sudanese who have had to go for months without even the basics.
"There is a lot of need in these areas, and we have seen households who have lost everything," she said.
"They don’t even have houses... they don’t have anywhere to sleep. It is really a very difficult situation," Luma said.
U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Molly Phee, who traveled with WFP to Koch to mark the resumption of humanitarian deliveries to the county, said government and opposition leaders must work to end the conflict once and for all so that aid can reach people safely and without interruption.
"Absolutely the most important thing is a sustainable peace. Without that, we will see South Sudan walk backward and no one wants that," Phee said.
The conflict in South Sudan has left an estimated 4.6 million people severely food insecure, and displaced more than two million people.
Living on water lilies
At least 10,000 people have registered to receive aid in Koch County. Marsha Nyachima, 20, is one of them. The mother of two said she and her family have been living since the start of the conflict in very precarious conditions and surviving on whatever food they can find.
She said the sound of gunfire was heard regularly near her village throughout the conflict. Many people died, either directly in conflict or of disease. Safe water isin short supply and mosquitoes are not. she said.
Nyachima said she and her family have lived for nearly two years on whatever food they could get from the river -- usually water lilies and fish.
Paul Riek, 58, said many people in Koch fell sick during the conflict. Because there were no medical supplies in the town, many died, he said.
Nyachima and Riek said Koch has still not felt any positive impact from the agreement that President Kiir signed on August 26 -- a month prior to the resumption of aid deliveries.