Category Archives: South Sudan

Q&A: Outgoing MSF chief reflects on a rapidly changing South Sudan

JUBA, South Sudan — After 11 years of working on and off in South Sudan, Liz Harding, the country’s head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières says she wishes she could have done more.

Médecins Sans Frontières doctors and clinical officers hold their daily meeting in Agok, South Sudan. Photo by: MSF South Sudan

“I always feel like we should have gone into that place quicker or been more responsive or should have seen that coming,” the British native told Devex. Ultimately, Harding says you have to “work with the information you have at the end of the day.”

After 14 months at the helm of one of MSF’s largest operations worldwide, Harding is handing over the reins. In her only one-on-one interview on the record, Harding speaks exclusively with Devex about the challenges she’s faced and insights she’s gained working in one of the world’s most challenging aid environments.

South Sudan is MSF’s second largest operation globally, having spent 84.5 million euros ($98 million) in 2016, following the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 107 million euros expenditure. The South Sudan mission employed the largest number of staff — with 3,923 people, including expats and nationals — for the organization last year.

A seasoned aid worker, Harding has worked with MSF in Ethiopia, Somalia, India, the Philippines, and Myanmar, and says South Sudan stands out due to its complex and dynamic context, one where the “need is so much in your face.”

In this exit interview, she opens up about her experience coming to South Sudan as a nurse in 2006, one year after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that put the country on track toward independence — and what’s it’s been like watching the young nation spiral into war.

What’s going through your mind now that you’re leaving?

It’s quite a separation. This has been so much a part of my life for two years that it’s hard to leave the work and our staff. I also know that I need to be fresh and have a rest and someone else can take over for now. My heart wants to stay but my brain’s saying, no you need to rest.

How do you know when it’s the right time to leave a job like this?

It’s always quite hard to gage how long you should stay. I don’t want to leave with bad feelings or feeling too stressed and you kind of have to feel ok when you leave and not push it too far. I want to continue with MSF, and so this is my lifestyle and you also have to be a little bit sensible as well.

How does an organization like MSF evolve in a conflict zone with restricted access and attacks against humanitarians?

You just have to respond to changing situations. For example, right before I came in 2015, our hospital in Leer, in Unity State, was looted and we had to evacuate. Then we went back trying to set up some secondary health care and it all went wrong again. The sad thing is that it’s not safe for us to open a hospital again in Leer, so we’ve had to use a much more community approach. This means that we have our national staff out in different areas around Leer and Mayendit counties, providing basic nutrition and health care. They provide the care for where the population actually is and they can move if the people move or due to insecurity.

It means that those who feel safe in certain areas don’t have to go to an unsafe place to get health care. The painful thing is that we can’t do it with secondary health — overnight, in-patient care. With secondary health you need a fixed location and it’s a bigger operation, and it’s just not safe right now to be able to set up that kind of facility. You can’t do what the population needs, but you still remain engaged with them in providing some basic health care. It’s hard choices.

How do you keep up with the changing pace?

Our [MSF] independence is not just a nice philosophy; it’s actually the way we do things, so we have the privilege as well to be able to respond when we want, to places where we think it’s important for us to be there. I know other organizations don’t necessarily have that privilege and I think that’s the key to making us effective. It’s about always thinking: What is the situation today that the population needs? Even if you just planned a beautiful intervention, things can change overnight, and you have to be willing to change your approach and your priorities and just keep always on your toes.

How does South Sudan compare to other places you’ve worked?

This is a very dynamic context both from a security and context point of view, but also from a medical point of view. It’s a country that has so many endemic tropical diseases and not just cholera, but you have ups and downs of kala-azar and malaria. Initially when I was here as a nurse and I’d just finished my diploma in tropical nursing at the London school, you’d see everything that you’d been taught.

Then there’s the logistics required to get the operation going. The fact that you have to fly most things in, and there’s many months a year when it’s all wet. So for example, when we had to open up the cholera treatment center in Lankien and the cholera treatment unit in Pieri, that was at a time when we were fortunate that the rain hadn’t come too much. Imagine having to do that in the middle of a big rain when you can’t actually get anything in when things aren’t land-able.

How do you combat the logistical challenges?

You try to always have some prepositioning in the projects so you can always have a way to respond. A lot of it is trying to plan ahead, so knowing that it will be malaria season and making sure you have enough drugs in the country and that you’re always prepared. We know roughly times of year when the diseases should happen, but if you have displacement on top of that, you have added complications and suddenly you have things like cholera. We had this in Bentiu. It started last October but didn’t finish until halfway through the dry season, which is unusual for cholera. Sometimes due to the situation it changes the dynamics and you can have certain diseases when you wouldn’t actually expect them.

What is the biggest challenge you face here?

Having to react all the time to changing either context or diseases or population movements. It just becomes part of your regular work life, and you think, “OK this is happening in this project so we need to send more stuff in.” Even now we’re looking at the dry season and we’re looking to see how much stuff we can actually preposition in the projects to be prepared for the next rains when they come. It’s a constant challenge, but it’s the most amazing people and you can really see the effect of what you do every day.

What’s one story or moment that has greatly impacted you?

When I was a nurse in Leer in 2007, if I think now of some of those staff I was working with at the time. Some are in the internally displaced person’s camp in Bentiu and they’ve been there for three and a half years and still aren’t sure when they can go home. Having met them again in Bentiu, nine years later and having talked to them about what they’ve been through and what it’s like to live in the camp and the things they’ve seen, they can’t go back to a normal life. They’ve all lost so greatly and that’s really impacted me a lot, because it’s people that I knew from previous, more stable times and then met them again in different circumstances. Our staff is amazing the way they cope and adapt. It puts our adaption to shame.

How do you feel watching the country go from what it was after independence to what it’s become now?

It’s really hard, particularly knowing that there was so much hope at one time, and it’s tough to deal with. But the toughness I deal with is nothing compared to the toughness our population and our patients and our staff have to deal with. I just feel that we still have a big job to do in this country making it a little better for the population and our patients, and that helps. With the way that we’re able to do things in areas that we’ve been working in for a couple of decades, that also helps us to remain here. Of course you have your days of huge frustrations as in why am I doing this, but overall it’s actually quite positive and I’ve really enjoyed my time here.

MSF has said “we’re doctors, not politicians.” Is it hard walking that line in such a charged context and how do you balance your public responses?

We try to tell the story of what it’s really like, particularly for our patients on the ground. It’s telling their story — whether it’s in a cholera outbreak or if they’ve just been displaced and had to walk three days to the protection of civilian site. Those are the stories that we really need to focus on as they’re quite often not told as much.

In general, we stay away from the politics, but it’s a very hard line to walk as you also don’t want to dilute what’s happening and you don’t just want to brush over the politics either. Whether it’s politics, context, or natural disasters, there are always as many causes to the situations where we find our patients in. It’s very hard to say who did what to whom. In this country, it’s particularly complex and that’s why, personally for me, I stick more with what’s actually happened. For example they’ve just been displaced and they’re in an area and there’s no services and no health care, no food, children are getting malnourished — these kinds of stories have a really big benefit.

What advice would you give another head of a mission in a similar context?

Be as reactive as possible. Plan for what you know might happen and then day-to-day prioritize as much as you can. Set priorities, as in “these are the things I really want to respond to.” So for example, displacement due to conflict is one of the top things on our list and keeping that in mind is important.

On a pure human side, make sure that you take your time off because some days you can feel like you’ve done a week’s work in a day. Take the calmer days when they happen, as it’s not crazy every single day, but is most days. I always tried to take a day off a week and I managed most of the time. If something can wait for Monday morning it can wait till Monday morning.

Tension in South Sudan capital after bid to disarm detained ex-army chief

NAIROBI (Reuters) South Sudan’s government has sought to disarm the bodyguards of detained former army chief Paul Malong on fears he might escape and launch a rebellion, his wife said on Saturday, highlighting tensions within the leadership.


Salva Kiir

Malong – the man who has led President Salva Kiir’s campaign against rebels – has been under house arrest since May after Kiir sacked him following a string of military resignations by senior generals alleging abuses and ethnic bias.

Malong had initially fled the capital Juba with a convoy of vehicles for his home state of Aweil following his dismissal – raising fears he might join opposition forces, before returning to the capital.
On Saturday, his wife Lucy Ayak told Reuters security officials arrived at their home late on Friday with “specific orders” from Kiir.

“They came carrying the order from the president and told General Malong that they had been ordered to disarm his bodyguards,” she said, adding that they also tried to take his phone and said his family members would not be allowed to visit.

“The government is thinking that General Malong might take the country back to war. The tension is still high … we do not know if they might come back and arrest him by force if he resists.”

Residents in Juba told Reuters heavily-armed soldiers have blocked the main road leading to his house.

Media outlets from Juba also reported that a senior commander in the army who is allied with Malong has also defected with the aim of launching a rebellion.

President Kiir’s press secretary Ateny Wek Ateny declined to comment, saying the “issue was purely an army matter”.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into civil war in 2013 after Kiir fired his deputy Riek Machar.

The conflict, largely fought along ethnic lines, has pitched parts of the oil-producing country into severe hunger, paralyzed public services and forced a quarter of the population – three million people – to flee their homes.


Interview: Expert calls for use of diplomacy to resolve South Sudan conflict

A South Sudanese expert Tuesday said the United States should explore use of persuasion and diplomacy toward the war-torn country’s leaders, instead of sanctions which could scuttle ongoing peace efforts.


Image result for jacob chol

President Salva (centre) and rebel leader Machar (left from front) walk on a red carpet at Addis as James Wani Iga (extreme left) accompanies them

“Sanctions don’t have any major impact on these leaders that have been sanctioned in South Sudan. They just send sort of chilling, personal reflections to those leaders, because most of (leaders) them don’t travel, have no money in the U.S they have money here,” said Jacob Chol, professor of politics at Juba university.

He was reacting to the Sept. 6 sanctions including asset freeze and travel ban imposed by the U.S Department of the Treasury on three former and current South Sudan leaders on pretext of obstructing peace and stability in the country.

The affected individuals include the minister of information Michael Makuei, South Sudan army (SPLA) deputy chief of staff Malek Reuben and former SPLA chief of staff Paul Malong.

“Sanctions will embolden the leaders now and make them stronger. What is important besides, sanctions are persuasion and diplomacy,” said Chol, adding that most of these leaders don’t actually have credit cards.

The political science don also cautioned that the U.S. administration’s recent sanctions should have included members of the armed opposition (SPLA-in opposition) allied to former First Vice President Riek Machar.

“The U.S. should be careful on whom to sanction, if they want to be very fair they have to look on both sides of the war so that the government does not look like it is being targeted by the U.S.,” he disclosed.

Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Undersecretary Bak Valentino called the U.S. sanctions unjust and unfair since they excluded rebel officials.

Chol further said there is need for leadership transition to be included in the high level peace deal revitalization forum launched in July, by the East African bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

“If the region does not become very neutral and honest enough to resolve conflict, it will go on forever. This State should be helped to save it from collapse,” he added.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 after political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to fighting that pitted mostly Dinka ethnic soldiers loyal to Kiir against Machar’s Nuer ethnic group.

The 2015 peace agreement to end the violence was again violated in July 2016 when the rival factions resumed fighting in the capital forcing Machar to flee into exile.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions that have sought refuge in neighboring countries.


Uganda a “refugee paradise” – really?

The way the government of the Republic of Uganda is accommodating refugees fleeing political violence from neighboring countries like South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had received massive attention from the media and other international humanitarian organizations, but does that give it a credit to be called “a refugee paradise?”

By Lotara Charles


Earlier this year (2017), the Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General, Jan Egeland, urged European countries to emulate the immigration and refugee policy of the East African country after it was reported that the country is hosting half a million refugees mainly from South Sudan, though the figure increased with booing 500,000 more refugees entering Uganda.

However, it is not just a question of hosting an influx of refugees but the assistance which these internally displaced persons get from their so-called paradise.

Media reports reveal that some of these refugees, especially the ones fleeing violence from South Sudan do not have proper protection as rebel forces follow them even in their “paradise” and harass them while the national security pays no attention to their atrocities.

In paradise, the poor, women and children have proper and adequate basic needs for sustainability but this is the missing piece in that “paradise” as hundreds of thousands of refugees from those neighboring countries are being forced to go back to their respective violent-stricken countries simply because enough food and shelter are not provided in the “paradise.”

Noteworthy, refugees who choose to go to those camps in Uganda do so not because they want, but because it is their last and only option, and this is exactly the opposite with a real paradise where people willing and joyfully choose to be there.

The Ugandan government might boast for hosting a large influx of refugees from different angles of the continent but that does not qualify that Museveni’s autocratic state a “paradise.”

Before piling an unnecessary praise by the international humanitarian organizations and the media, it is important to trace the history of millions of refugees who were horrendously murdered and buried in mass graves in the so-called paradise and these were mainly South Sudanese citizens.

The world might keep pouring flowery language on the East African country, but the untold and undocumented stories of horrendous carnage and human debris of South Sudanese nationals in Uganda will forever linger in my mind. I am writing this out of experience and from my standpoint, the Republic of Uganda is not close to something called paradise!

Lotara Charles is a student Journalist at Great Zimbabwe University. He writes here at his own capacity. Have questions? Contact

Follow him on Twitter @lotaracharles


SA has been ‘hospitable’, South Sudan rebel leader Machar tells UN

Cape Town – South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar, who has been in South Africa since last year, has told the United Nations that the country’s government has been “hospitable”, but he wishes to be released “from confinement and detention”.

( File : AP )

Southern Sudan former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar (centre)

“My host here South Africa has been hospitable,” Machar said in a statement released on Wednesday after a teleconference with the UN security council.

According to reports the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), arrived in South Africa late last year without the government’s knowledge – after fleeing the capital Juba, claiming that President Salva Kiir wanted to assassinate him.

Reports said at the time that he was “basically under house arrest” near Pretoria, with his movements “restricted and phone calls monitored and controlled”.

The Department of International Relations and Co-operation confirmed at the time that Machar was indeed in South Africa but denied claims that he was under house arrest.

Peaceful resolution 
In his statement Machar called on the UN to “…end the international policy of isolating the SPLM-IO, including my release from confinement and detention so as to enable our full engagement in finding a peaceful resolution to this conflict.”

The conflict in South Sudan has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced more than two million people.

The country became Africa’s youngest nation in 2011 after the end of a 21 year war with its neighbour Sudan for independence.

Last week President Kiir declared a unilateral ceasefire as he launched a national dialogue. The move was, however, seen as a controversial, as it excluded Machar.

This was not the first time that Kiir had vowed the army will lay down arms in the three-year conflict, and he warned that his troops would defend themselves if attacked.

International community 

The SPLM-IO has however remained adamant that the announced dialogue was not going to be successful without Machar.

Deputy military spokesperson for SPLM-IO, Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel, told News24 that the dialogue was only a “smokescreen” meant to put the blame on those who were against Kiir.

Gabriel said that the move was meant to mislead the international community which had been pressuring Kiir to end the violence.

“The dialogue is one-sided since Machar is not part of it. We are, therefore, not going to participate in it without him. Machar is not a violent man as President Kiir seeks to portray him. He is the man of the people.

“Kiir knows that when he [Machar] gets back to the country he would simply put an end to his [Kiir’s]looting. Once he gets back, we will defend him with everything that we have, even if it means that the fighting continues forever,” said Gabriel. reports.


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has said the proposed trip to war-torn South Sudan with Pope Francis has been postponed until it can have the greatest influence in terms of a peaceful outcome to the conflict.


Pope Francis (left) and Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

Speaking to the The Tablet, Archbishop Welby said, “The visit is emphatically not cancelled; it is postponed. But it is postponed so that it can go ahead at a time when it will have the most impact in a forgotten war of the utmost savagery.”

The Archbishop did not say when the trip, which had been provisionally planned for October, will now take place. “It very much depends on the conditions on the ground in terms of what people are expecting from it and what conditions local negotiations are in,” he explained.

“In the end, peace is made by people involved in a conflict, not by outsiders and so they have got to be ready to move,” he added.

Earlier this week, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis would not be making the trip to war-torn South Sudan this year. It followed reports in the Italian media that the pontiff was forced to cancel his plans due to security concerns. The visit with the Archbishop of Canterbury would have been the first of its kind, as the two Church leaders sought to highlight the intense suffering that is taking place in the country.

That suffering is “beyond all imagination,” according to Archbishop Welby who added that it is “absolutely clear that if there is going to be this kind of visit, which is unprecedented…then you’re playing a heavyweight card and you have got to get the timing right.” While the preparation work for the visit, is continuing, he added, “you don’t waste a card like that on anything that is not going to work.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative in Rome, Archbishop Sir David Moxon has been in daily, close contact with the Vatican over the trip, he said and there have also been discussion with various foreign services.

South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, has been torn apart by civil war, which has seen numerous atrocities and ethnic cleaning since 2013. It’s estimated that over 300,000 people have died and more than one million children have fled the country, with a similar number displaced internally, according to the UN. Millions of people are also reported to be on the brink of starvation due to food shortages and man-made famine.

The conflict, often along ethnic lines, began when President Salva Kiir – who is a Dinka – sacked his deputy Riek Machar – who is from the Nuer tribe – accusing him of planning a coup.

The Churches in South Sudan are playing a vital role in offering emergency help to people, while also trying to mediate a peace to bring the conflict to an end.


This story was reported by THE TABLET and edited by The New Day Online. For the original copy of this story, click here

South Sudan Orders $10,000 Work Permits

The South Sudan government has raised work permit fees for foreigners from $100 to $10,000.

A joint statement issued by Labour, Interior and Finance ministries in the capital Juba said the move was aimed at generating additional revenues to fill the gap in the 2016/2017 national budget.

The statement classified the work permit fees under: Professional or business, $10,000; blue class workers, $2,000; and casual workers, $1,000.

The entry visa charge was also raised to $100 from $50. However, Kenyan and Uganda nationals will pay $50 (Sh5,000) but subject to renewal monthly.


South Sudan has been grappling with an economic crisis occasioned by the outbreak of war in 2013. There were fears that the new charges would attract retaliatory measures from other countries.

The decision, which followed the UN declaration of famine in parts of the country late last month, has been viewed as a veiled target on foreigners working in humanitarian agencies that are helping majority of South Sudanese displaced and suffering from the more than three years of brutal conflict.

However, President Salva Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny dismissed allegations of clamping down on humanitarian workers, saying the decision was driven by national interest.

“Work permit is a routine,” said Mr Ateny in Juba. Any country in the world has a right to impose work permits on foreigners. If you can’t pay $10,000, then you hire a local person instead (of a foreigner).

“Is there any country in the world that does not have regulation for foreigners. Instead the government of South Sudan was asleep and it has now woken up,” he added.


Meanwhile, the South Sudan peace process has been thrown into disarray following the launch of a new rebel movement by former deputy army chief. General Thomas Cirilo on Monday launched the National Salvation Front (NSF), declaring himself the leader of the faction. A statement extended to the media in Juba listed land grabbing, rampant corruption, tribalism and the general suffering of the civilians as key reasons for NSF’s bid to dislodge President Kiir militarily. Gen Cirilo cut ties with President Kiir after resigning from military service two months ago. He said his movement was purely seeking regime change in South Sudan so as to effect political and socio-economic transformation.

The new rebel chief vowed to rally the people across the country behind his movement to depose President Kiir, who he accused of implementing a tribal agenda. He said: “Correcting numerous mistakes is an enormous task that requires the participation of all citizens.”

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32 000 South Sudanese already entered Sudan in 2017: UNHCR

Khartoum – At least 32 000 South Sudanese have entered Sudan since the start of the year, with tens of thousands more expected to arrive fleeing a famine in their country, the UN refugee agency said on Sunday.

File: AFP

On Monday, South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation formed after splitting from the north in 2011, declared famine in some regions, saying 100 000 people faced starvation and another million were on the brink of famine.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said it was initially expecting up to 60,000 South Sudanese to arrive in Sudan in the whole of 2017, but “the level of new arrivals has thus far surpassed initial expectations”.

“So far, nearly 32 000 refugees are estimated to have arrived in Sudan in 2017,” UNHCR said in a report released on Sunday.

“The food security situation is expected to deteriorate further in coming months” in South Sudan given that a famine has been declared in parts of the country’s Unity State, it said.

The UNHCR said refugees have reported walking for five to seven days to reach Sudan’s border state like White Nile, and that 90% of the new arrivals there are women and children.

“Man-made” famine

“Many arrive exhausted and in poor health, often with critical levels of malnutrition,” it said.

The UNHCR anticipates a continuous influx of South Sudanese refugees throughout 2017, but was concerned over the drop in funding to meet their needs.

The agency and partners have appealed for $ 166.65 million to meet the needs of South Sudanese refugees in Sudan, it said.

“So far, inter-agency partners have raised approximately 5% of funds needed.”

Aid groups have slammed a “man-made” famine caused by bloodshed in South Sudan where civil war has forced people to flee, disrupted agriculture, sent prices soaring and cut off aid agencies from some of the worst-hit areas.

South Sudan has been engulfed by civil war since 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his rival and former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

The UNHCR said since the war erupted nearly 330 000 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in Sudan fleeing war and food insecurity in their country.

S Sudan leader Kiir vows aid access to famine-hit areas

Juba – South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir vowed Tuesday the government would ensure that aid reaches areas hit by famine after three years of war that has restricted access for humanitarian workers.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir. (File, AFP)

The world’s youngest nation on Monday declared famine in parts of the northern Greater Unity state, where 100 000 people were facing starvation and another one million were on the brink of famine. A total of nearly five million are going hungry.

Aid groups have slammed a “man-made” famine caused by ongoing fighting in the country where civil war has forced people to flee, disrupted agriculture, sent prices soaring, and seen aid agencies blocked from accessing some of the worst-hit areas.

“It underscores the complete failure by government, opposition forces, and international actors to end the cycle of abuse,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Tuesday.

In an address to parliament, Kiir said the government “will ensure that all humanitarian and development organisations have unimpeded access to needy populations across the country”.

A UN aid official working in the region, speaking on condition of anonymity, welcomed the commitment – which has been made in the past – while saying it was “more important that access be granted on the ground”.

Kiir’s commitment could give leverage in negotiations on the ground, she said, as gaining access to hungry communities often meant tricky talks with an array of actors in the crisis.

Some regions are only accessible through air drops of humanitarian aid – which the UN official said costs seven times more than sending aid by road or barge.

And access is not as simple as permission: aid agencies have to be sure if they give out food aid to a community they won’t be attacked by an armed group and have their rations stolen right afterwards.

“There are many types of impediments,” said the official.


South Sudan was engulfed by civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his rival and former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup against him.

The HRW statement launched a withering attack on the leaders of South Sudan as well as the international community, saying both sides in the conflict “have shrugged off international pressure, and spared themselves from any meaningful consequences”.

This despite documented cases of large-scale killings, recruitment of child soldiers, rape and torture.

“The people of South Sudan were abandoned by their leaders a long time ago. The UN Security Council and regional organisations have failed civilians. Today’s famine is the price of inaction,” read the statement.

The European Commission on Tuesday announced an emergency aid package worth EUR82 million ($86 million) for “the most urgent needs in the country” and to help neighbouring countries cope with a massive influx of refugees.

The US State Department expressed serious concern and stressed the crisis was man-made.

“We call on President Kiir to expeditiously make good on his promise that humanitarian and developmental organizations will have unimpeded access to populations in need across the country,” acting spokesman Mark Toner said.

“An estimated 5.5 million people-nearly half of South Sudan’s population-will face life-threatening hunger this year,” he said.

“All parties to the conflict must stop impeding relief efforts and allow food and other essential assistance to reach those who need it the most.”

Originally posted on News24