Life in Bentiu, South Sudan can be harsh, with temperatures often over 40 degrees Celsius combined with either extreme humidity or dust. Bentiu hosts the largest United Nations protection of civilians or PoC site in the country. More than 112,000 displaced South Sudanese live here. The displaced people fled their homes after armed conflict began in December 2013.
Forests and swamp surround the site. But the camp itself, which covers an area of 160 hectares, is bare of trees. Builders cut them down to construct shelters, health clinics, and other basic infrastructure. In turn, the lack of trees has led to increased wind speeds and dust storms during the dry season.
But now, some camp residents are trying to create shade and reduce dust by planting trees. The International Organization for Migration or IOM, which manages the camp, has started a tree nursery.
Koang Pech lives in the camp and is the gardener working on the project. He plants seeds in discarded food bags with cow dung. He says: “We are cultivating local trees such as mango, guava, neem, dinkipesha, ban, keer, meth, lemon, bannes, powpow, dhuras, chokas, etc. Some of them can reach up to 25 metres…. I am teaching people how to plant them, how to make the hole, how often to water it, and so on.”
So far, IOM has produced 1,000 tree seedlings and saplings. The gardeners planted the first 300 trees at schools, clinics, and communication centres. In the future, camp residents will be able to learn about growing trees at the nursery and then plant trees near their homes.
Mr. Pech explains: “Trees near clinics and schools will help with the heat and provide shade when the sun is high. When the tree is big enough, kids can have classes outside under its shade. People will be happy.”
He adds that, when the trees mature, they will also provide fruit such as mangoes and guavas, as well as a shady place to meet friends. “You know, it is easier to find your way around when you recognize a tree; you can see it from far away. When there are enough trees, they will attract the rain. This is how nature works.”
The people living at the Bentiu site are among the almost two million South Sudanese who are displaced within their own country. The conflict forced them from their villages, and they will stay at the site until it is safe enough to return home.
Humanitarian conditions continue to worsen across South Sudan. IOM estimates that seven million people will need assistance this year due to conflict, displacement, food insecurity, a deteriorating economy, and limited access to basic services.
IOM says that, though the tree nursery is a small project, it is helping people whose lives were greatly disrupted to regain a sense of normalcy and relief.
This story was adapted from a photo essay titled, “From Seedling to Shade: Planting Trees in South Sudan’s Displacement Sites” by the International Organization for Migration, published by Inter Press Service. To view the original article, please see: http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/seedling-shade-planting-trees-south-sudans-displacement-sites/
Photo: Koang Pech, an internally displaced person and gardener living and working in Bentiu, South Sudan Credit: Amanda Nero/ IOM 2017