Communities in Lowoi, Eastern Equatoria, tell UNMISS peacekeepers food assistance is priority
“We have all had properties and farmlands destroyed during seasonal movements by nomadic herders,” says Jokomina Celso, a women’s representative in Lowoi.
Jokomina was speaking to a visiting patrol of UNMISS peacekeepers. “Many herders also wanted to forcefully marry women from our local communities in a bid to settle here,” she continues.
Lowoi lies approximately 45 kilometres west of Torit town in Eastern Equatoria. Farming communities here are still reeling from a series of conflicts with cattle herders who arrived in the area a few months ago.
“Even after a government directive ordering them to leave, these settlers refused to budge. The tipping point for us who are permanent residents here was when children were abducted,” reveals Augustino Atinatio, a youth representative. “We were frustrated and temporarily took matters into our own hands to try and expel them from our lands.”
Unfortunately, casualties multiplied on the side of Augustino’s people, who had just a few farming implements to defend themselves against heavily armed herders. As a result, thousands of people fled from several suburban areas to seek refuge in Lowoi Centre. The population in Lowoi Centre is now more than 34,000 households.
Even though armed herders departed the area in February, hopes of returning to life as the citizens of Lowoi once knew it, seem bleak, and food is scarce.
“Yes, it is now peaceful, but our living conditions have not improved,” states Jokomina.
“We now survive on wild yams which we dig from surrounding mountains. These yams take days to cook!” revealed Cornelius James, another youth representative. “When we try to cultivate our farms, the harvest is poor, and the yield isn’t enough to sustain us.”
“We need urgent food assistance and farming equipment to tide us over the rainy season,” Jokomina adds.
Their situation is further exacerbated by an overwhelming sense of fear. It’s not the first time that armed cattle keepers have left, only to return during the dry season. “Those who left their lands and houses behind are still scared to go back home,” discloses Augustino.
According to community members, initial assessments have been conducted by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission and organizations such as Plan International, who were in the area to register internally displaced persons. Nevertheless, help is yet to come.
Other challenges faced by people here include inadequate teaching staff for the shared community school and a high rate of youth unemployment.
These concerns were shared with UNMISS personnel on patrol. “We came to Lowoi to assess the security and humanitarian needs of communities,” stated Anna Lewe, a representative from the UN peacekeeping mission. “Our priority as soon as we return to Torit is to communicate the issues faced by people here, especially the need for food supplies, to our humanitarian partners, so that aid can reach everybody who needs it as soon as possible.”