After widening of the waterway, larger boast carrying materials and supplies can now be transported between Old Fangak and Paguir. Photo: Peter Canton, Action Against Hunger, South Sudan.
The waterway is more than what it seems. The idea behind this monumental project was, ‘how do we get to Paguir during the floods?’
More than just clearing out a path in the water, the waterway is the highway to life-saving supplies.
“We had two motorcycles, but they were uselessly parked. We couldn’t use them. And in Old Fangak we had two motor boats, but we couldn’t use them except to cross the river. If you wanted to go to Paguir you had to sit for four hours in a local canoe. Which is a hollowed out tree trunk. In those canoes, there is no way to relax. The best you could do is stretch your legs then pull them back,” narrates Action Against Hunger’s Head of Base, Joe Joe Zubahyeah, who after traveling through weeds and grass couldn’t believe the sacrifice that humanitarian workers and Action Against Hunger were making to reach and assist Paguir.
Innovation was necessary.
“All of us have suffered due to the water. And the humanitarian support was not able to come to our area because the road was blocked. That is why we volunteered ourselves to go and open the way,” explains Tito Biel, a thirty-nine-year-old villager who together with many other supportive members of the community went in the water, sickle in hand, to open the waterway.
Somebody who doesn’t know may think that this means just cutting a few twigs along the water. But the reality is very different.
All the water is covered in tall, thick grass that you can’t go through even if you push it to the side.
Volunteers help to widen the waterway from floating grass that often blocks the way. The waterway enables large boats to pass between Old Fangak and Paguir. Photo: Peter Canton, Action Against Hunger, South Sudan.
Gatchang Leknyang, an Action Against Hunger local staff working on food security, had previous experience clearing thick grass from water, so he led the group of fifty local men.
“The grass will not come out unless you cut the root from underwater and then take it out…I used to go deep into the water to cut the root…We go down, we cut for 30 or 60 seconds inside the water and then you come out…I worked alongside the men to motivate them.”
Action Against Hunger actively engaged the local authorities and the community, who after some initial doubts and disbelief that such a tremendous goal could be achieved, fully backed Action Against Hunger.
“We provided food and cash for the work people clearing the waterway. People who were surviving only on fish and water lilies could support their family with this money while they were working to open the waterway for the benefit of the community and of Action Against Hunger as well,” explains James Gatluak, Action Against Hunger’s Health and Nutrition Program Manager in Paguir.
James saw firsthand the urgent need for the waterway so that life-saving medicine and nutrition supplies for children could reach the community during the flood crisis.
“Back then it was so challenging…Before the waterway, it took 4 hours for our health and nutrition supplies to reach us in a local canoe…Currently, it is so easy with the waterway. Last week we received our medicines, and they were brought within the same day and free of charge and our doctor was very happy because he can provide treatment on time.”
It took almost four months and, as workers could only clear eight or nine meters per day. But the community and Action Against Hunger were both focused on achieving this goal.
“Action Against Hunger offers support by telling us many ideas, like the waterway, that can help us cope with the flood situation.” says Gatwech Deng, another man who opened the waterway. “We do it because this is our place, no one will do it but us…We do it for our community,” adds Kai Duop who worked side by side with Gatwech inside the water.
The resilience of Paguir’s community is extraordinary.
“This waterway has not only benefited Action Against Hunger,” explains logistics staff, Chuit Deng. “Other humanitarian partners and NGOs can also coordinate their movements. Let’s say another organization has medical supplies coming from Juba, now they can easily come through the waterway and collect their medicine. Just like that, the waterway is benefiting other NGOs, the community, the local traders, and Action Against Hunger. There is no limit…It’s life-saving for everyone.”
The waterway is a game-changer. With all the costs for transportation and logistics dramatically reduced due to Action Against Hunger’s waterway, all that budget can now go straight to the programs that serve the resilient people of Paguir.
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