Friday, 6 April 2012

Ajiep and the ruins of humanitarianism

Across the river from Kuajok there is a place called Ajiep. During the war people from the Kuajok area and beyond fled here in search of safety. But the allegedly mismanaged relief operations and massive logistical problems made the scale of suffering and death toll at Ajiep startling. In my mind Ajiep is synonymous with how bad things can get and how badly wrong humanitarian assistance can go.

At the end of the 1990s, this part of Bahr el Ghazal was in the grip of a terrible famine, political fall outs within the SPLA High Command provoked rebellions, raids and pillage by one of its founder members, Kerubino Kuanyin Bol across (and beyond) greater Gogrial.  Ajiep became a kind of relief magnate, a supposed safe haven, drawing people from as far away as Rumbek and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Except that it wasn’t safe and it was far from a haven. The area was still being raided by Kerubino Kuanyin’s forces and the few agencies working there (notably MSF-Belgium) were inadequately supplied or prepared to deal with the influx people. This meant enormous problems in food aid distribution. Put simply, there was not enough food and too many starving people. Some of the worst emergency mortality rates ever recorded come from Ajiep

A lot of people that I have met and spoken to in Kuajok went to Ajiep during the late 1990s period of Kerubino attacks and famine. They told me that I would not find anything still there, that everyone left Ajiep and it had returned to normal, just another village.  I arrived there are that seemed to be true. Today Ajiep is still a village, rather a nice village as it happens. A lots of green grass between the scattered homesteads despite it being the middle of dry season.

On Friday I had to pass through Ajiep on the way to Gogrial East and I was curious. Was there any material evidence of the aid operations? Had they left anything behind – a building? A clinic? Was anything still there? Was anything still being used?

We drove up to the market in the centre of the village and asked a few people who were hanging around. We were directed to an empty field (unfortunately I couldn’t understand what was supposed to have been there) and a small building

I have shown these photos to a few people since returning to Kuajok and they think this is an MSF office or clinic. The bomb shelter is a give away that this was built during war. It doesn’t appear to have been used at all since, the structure is still solid and intact, but it has been abandoned, forgotten on the path to somewhere else.

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