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Gelachol Payam (South Sudan) Navigates Isolation, Hunger, and the Pursuit of Peace

Date: May 6, 2024

Gelachol is a township in Baliet County, Upper Nile State, and is mainly home to the Dinka community. Gelachol lies on the border between Ulang County and Nyirol County, predominantly inhabited by the Nuer community. Due to frequent violence, many displaced civilians from neighboring areas have turned to Gelachol to seek refuge, stability, and safety. However, Gelachol struggles to provide food sources for both the displaced civilians and native locals. 

Protection Mainstreaming during Solidaritès International (SI)'s distribution of farming and fishing tools in Lelo and Warjwok Malakal County. 15 May 2023.

Overcoming Obstacles and Reaching Remote Communities

In remote regions like Gelachol, humanitarian organizations face significant challenges in extending their reach. The township's isolation, far from the county center in Baliet and the state capital in Malakal, poses logistical hurdles compounded by the absence of mobile networks and poor road conditions. During the rainy season, these roads become completely impassable. In the past, humanitarian staff from other organizations have expressed concern about their safety. 

As the international community grapples with the challenge of recognizing and responding to growing protection needs worldwide, humanitarian organizations find themselves confronting funding shortages, making their task increasingly difficult.

This is the context in which, in March 2024, teams from NP and Solidaritès International (SI) committed to supporting the remote Gelachol community. Our collaboration aims to address protection needs, foster community cohesion, and improve water, sanitation, and hygiene services.

Communal Efforts to Sustain Peace 

When NP and SI met with the local Chief, he relayed that the counties have made significant strides to avoid conflict and improve safety conditions for all, including humanitarians.

A local chief informed NP and SI that the general situation was stable and he emphasized the need for additional activities around peace to reinforce peace between the communities in Gelachol Payam, Ulang County, and Nyirol County. 

“Since the last time you [NP and SI] came here, we’ve been interacting with people from both Nyirol and Ulang, we listen to each other but we want peace among us. We have been living at the border and if we do not listen to each other, we cannot live in peace, we want peace conference between us, Ulang, and Nyirol.” 

The chief from Nyirol County got together to meet with the chiefs of Gelachol. This allowed the leaders to discuss and address key issues between their communities. Nyirol County’s chief shared, “Humanitarian agencies are now the ones connecting people, they are like the government now, I welcome the idea of peace conference between Nyirol, Ulang, and Gelachol, we will also go and talk with other humanitarian agencies in Nyirol about these issues. Please go and tell the government that we are now living in peace through community peace initiatives.” 

Reaching the point of improved relations has been no easy feat, but there’s deeper dialogue needed amongst the groups. Our NP team is well-positioned to assist the groups in working toward peaceful coexistence. In order to build sustainable peace amongst these three counties, NP is now coordinating a peace conference with leaders and officials from Gelachol, Nyirol, and Ulang.

Amidst Dire Situation, Facilitating Humanitarian Access

These communities are working towards peace with one another while they face dire humanitarian conditions: lack of medical care, food, and infrastructure.

Critically ill patients, including a child that required a transfer to Baliet County for further treatment, face challenges due to lack of transportation and communication infrastructure. Although NP isn't a medical organization, we can work to connect people who provide medical services. Our team was able to transport the local doctor to an area with a phone signal, enabling him to reach out and procure services for these critically ill patients.

The Head Chief of Gelachol stressed, “We are here facing a situation of hunger. Here in Gelachol, we don’t have networks—even if you are starving, there is no way to reach out to your relatives or friends in other places to tell them that you are starving in hopes that they could help you. There is no road, we cultivate but our crops are destroyed by pests, we are only living by fish. Someone who does not eat fish cannot find something to eat here. If you eat fish, then you have something to eat here—it is the only food you can find here."

He reiterated: “We need food, we need boats, or at least fishing nets. We need roofing for our hospital, sick people here do not have any ward for nursing. We need fencing for the local school, children are at risk of wandering away during the rainy season.”

This is one of the many benefits of our partnership with SI. By working together to access remote communities, SI is right there with us, listening to what communities need: SI has committed to assisting Gelachol with various projects, including hospital roofing, school fencing, and community latrines.

Gelachol and its neighboring communities face significant challenges, including food insecurity and limited access to essential services. Yet, the combined efforts of humanitarian organizations like NP and SI, alongside local leaders and communities, offer hope for positive change. Through initiatives targeting protection, community cohesion, and service improvement, NP and SI are making meaningful progress in Gelachol. However, continued support and collaboration are essential to sustain this momentum and ensure a brighter future for these communities.

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This activity is a part of our project with Solidarités International (SI) to support community resilience and nonviolent conflict management in conflict and flood-affected areas of Upper Nile and Jonglei States, South Sudan, which is funded by the European Union and supporters like you. 

You can protect civilians who are living in or fleeing violent conflict. Your contribution will transform the world's response to conflict.
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