Reducing Fear and Famine in Leer County, South SudanLeer County has been greatly affected by the conflict in South Sudan. Ongoing fighting and explosive remnants of war (ERW), which impede safe movement and access to land by civilians and aid agencies, have contributed to a situation of fear and famine. The Danish Demining Group (DDG) has been conducting clearance of ERW to facilitate the return to normal life.
Driving through Leer Town, the capital of the South Sudanese County of the same name, the effects of recent conflict are visible. Cone-shaped huts called tukuls, once the homes of large families, are empty, with a large portion of the town’s population now seeking protection by United Nations (UN) troops in the Leer Informal Settlement. The impact of intense fighting on economic deprivation and famine is exacerbated by ERW, with the fear of injury or death from these preventing people and aid agencies from conducting activities necessary for livelihoods.
“Most people in Leer have experienced some form of displacement. The quality of life in Leer is often very low, and they live in fear not just because of the explosive hazards left behind from fighting, but also ongoing insecurity in the area”, says DDG’s Leer Technical Field Manager, Learnfirst Musiza. Within this context of insecurity it is difficult to imagine resuming a normal life, but this is exactly what the remaining residents are trying to do. As Learnfirst describes, “DDG can at least help them resume life by removing hazards and teaching them safe behaviours around these items”.
In early 2017, DDG launched its emergency response capacity to help facilitate this. The DDG camp now sits in an area in Leer Town’s centre where government and opposition forces have engaged in a number of skirmishes in previous months. In addition to survey and clearance of the ERW there so that people can move freely, Learnfirst emphasises that the purpose of this is to support the wider humanitarian response in the area: “DDG is prioritising locations where other humanitarian organisations want to be present. We deal with explosive hazards, so that agencies can move freely and provide basic services to the people of Leer”.
DDG Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team at the end of a working day. Photo by: Ben McCabe
Further, DDG’s work has been described as bringing a “sense of relief” to the local farmers relying on use of land in the area. John Gong, a farmer residing in a village close to the main Gandor market, describes how many had previously been afraid to travel there to buy food or sell goods because of the risk of ERW. He describes a particular mission in June this year, where with the support of a UN Mission in South Sudan team, DDG removed and destroyed two grenades found in the market. A survey of dangerous items followed to ensure no other hazards remained.
“Gandor market is the biggest in the area”, says Learnfirst. “Community members informed us that they will now be able to safely extend the market”. It has also helped facilitate the return of fish sellers coming from the main market area, seen alongside the road where they are more likely to find willing customers.
DDG hopes this new development will foster much-needed growth in this site, which represents the economic heart of the area.