South Sudan: Interview with MSF field coordinator Karel Janssens
January 31, 2012
Pibor, South Sudan, 23 January 2012.
My name is Karel Janssens, I’m the field coordinator for MSF in Pibor.
Here in Pibor county, MSF is providing healthcare in three health structures, three clinics, one in Pibor town, one in Lekwongole, and one in Gumruk. And those three facilities together provide the only access to healthcare for the 160,000 people who are living in Pibor county.
Our team here in Pibor was evacuated on 23 December when we knew about an imminent attack on Lekwongole and Pibor, and on Christmas Day Lekwongole was attacked and a couple of days later Pibor was attacked as well.
On 7 January the MSF team returned to Pibor and started medical activities again. I myself a couple of days later went to Lekwongole, that was 13 January, and found our clinic in the middle of Lekwongole town completely burnt out, the walls and the roof are still there, but all the rest of the clinic has been burnt, thrown out of the clinic, it’s a total mess. And Lekwongole town is a ghost town, it’s completely burnt to the ground, not a single tukul, not a single hut that is still standing. Stray dogs, some birds, some individuals wandering through that sinister landscape.
We decided to go back basically three days ago with a medical team, and so for the past three days we have been doing medical consultations for the people that are remaining around Lekwongole, because the people don’t dare yet to go back to Lekwongole town, to stay there, also because there is nothing anymore left, but also because they are just afraid of other attacks. People come from the surrounding bush for some food that they hope to get at the airstrip, and also now, since the three days that we are back there, for medical consultations.
One of our major constraints on restarting our activities is the fact that our South Sudanese staff is as much affected by the violence as the rest of the community here – we still miss 27 staff.
Three weeks after the attacks we still see patients with gunshot wounds, wounds people got by fleeing from the violence. But also a lot of malaria cases – almost half of the patients that we see have malaria. We see diarrhoea, respiratory infections, and of course that comes from the fact that people have been scattered in the bush, fleeing from the violence, and sleeping outdoors, not having mosquito nets, and so we see the consequences of that.
This was a major attack, here in Pibor County. I was myself on the road leading south of here, three days ago, and half of the villages that I saw were burnt out.
At the same time we have to say that this is not the first time that such an attack happens in Jonglei State. Last year we have had several attacks, here in Pibor County, but also in Pieri, an area north of Pibor. The teams there have had the same problems here, with the hospital being ransacked, evacuation, many wounded, many women and children being between the wounded. This is not the first time; this is a recurrent problem all over Jonglei State.
Since this interview was recorded, two of MSF’s missing staff have been located; 25 others remain unaccounted for.