Crisis in South Sudan: Persons with Disabilities Excluded from Humanitarian Response Efforts

LIGHT FOR THE WORLD calls for including persons with disabilities in South Sudan in humanitarian response efforts. The disability and development organization enables access to relief and emergency response services for children and adults with disabilities in the Internally Displaced People’s Camps Mahad and Gumbo close to Juba. According to WHO figures an estimated 250,000 persons with disabilities live in IDP camps in South Sudan.

Juba/Vienna. Within the escalating violence and continuing humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, people with disabilities often become victims of crime and are both excluded from health services, education, physical rehabilitation and humanitarian response efforts. “Humanitarian crises hit vulnerable groups hardest. Amongst these are persons with disabilities. They are at risk of staying behind because they are either hidden as a result of stigma or when they and their care-givers cannot cope with the situation“, states Klaas Aikes, program coordinator South Sudan, of LIGHT FOR THE WORLD. The organization promotes and works towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities in services and social life in the Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps Mahad and Gumbo. In South Sudan, not solely in IDP camps, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD provides eye care services, physical rehabilitation and access to education for children with disabilities and raises awareness about the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian response efforts.

Persons with disabilities in internally displaced people’s camps

„Following the World Health Organization’s estimates on the number of persons with disabilities in the general population, there are at least 200,000 to 250,000 persons with disabilities among all the displaced and refugees in South Sudan“, explains Klaas Aikes. He goes on to emphasize: “However, we assume the number of persons with disabilities could be higher, given the fact that during war and violent periods refugees and internally displaced people acquire disabilities in the process due to diseases, malnutrition, injuries, gunshots and mines.“

How to include persons with disabilities in humanitarian response efforts?

To reveal and improve the level of inclusion of persons with disabilities during crises, in April 2014 LIGHT FOR THE WORLD carried out an assessment of the accessibility of humanitarian services in the small camp of internally displaced people Mahad located in Juba, Central Equatorial State. The assessment revealed that there was a high level of ignorance towards the knowledge, competencies, vulnerability and needs of persons with disabilities – especially of children, girls and women. Since then, based on these results, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD was able to build capacity among a total of five INGOs and other stakeholders by training them in the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Consequently facilities, e.g. toilets, have been made as accessible as possible. The organization provided rehabilitation and health services to men, women and children with disabilities in camps for internally displaced people in Juba. Moreover, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD strengthened two Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) to advocate for their rights and access to basic services. Klaas Aikes adds: “We also advocated for peace among the IDP camp population to live together in harmony through the formation of youth sport clubs for young men and women from within the camp population.”

Pictures and case study:

Johndy is great at playing football

The young boy from South Sudan was hurt in a violent conflict in his home town Bor and survived a gruesome flight to camp Mahad in Juba. When the fighting started in their hometown Bor, in South Sudan, Johndy and his family, in blind panic, all ran in different directions: father Major, mother Lucia, carrying baby Nyantut on her arm, Johndy, Camis and Akuei. One refugee after the other was shot. “I got hit when I was fleeing the war,” tells Johndy. “A bullet hit my upper leg and I couldn’t walk anymore.” Father Major is a fisher: every day he cast his net in the river Nile, near to his hometown Bor. But heavy fights broke out in the young country South Sudan, a country that, in 2011, joyfully celebrated its independence.


The residents of Bor got caught up between the fighting troops of president Salvia Kirr and the rebels of Riek Machar. By the end of 2013, Johndy had to run for his life. He was hit by a bullet, which damaged his upper leg. He could not walk anymore. He ended up in the hospital of his hometown Bor, but rebels invaded the hospital, marauding and murdering. Johndy fled the battleground again and only barely escaped. “My mother hoisted me on her shoulders: in the rush we had to flee, she even tripped multiple times. We hid in the woods for five days. When the governmental troops regained power, the fights stopped for a while. We quickly walked back to Bor.”

Carried by strangers

Johndy fled south, to Juba, along with dozens of other refugees, his mother, his little brothers and his little sisters. His father stayed in Bor and later fled north. During his flight, he was carried by strangers for days. "We spent the night on the ground, our only clothing being the ones we wore when we fled”, Johndy says. “Sometimes we got some food or something to drink from people we met on the way. The last part of our
journey, I was able to hitch a ride on a truck.”

Arrival in Camp Mahad and business instinct

From the first week of 2014, Johndy lived in the overcrowded, muddy refugee camp Mahad, in Juba. The first months, they slept in a structure made out of sticks, old rugs and bags. Barbin, the brother of Johndy’s mother Lucia, lives with them as well, as a son, because his parents have died. Thanks to mother Lucia’s business instinct , they were able to trade their meager residence for a more comfortable accommodation. After they reunited with their father Major, Major decided to return to Bor, to protect their country against invaders. “We can also return to our birthplace,” says Johydy. “Our home was destroyed completely, trashed and burnt, but the ground on which our home stood is still ours. But, I don’t want to go back to Bor, I want to stay in Juba. We live in a very dangerous place.”
“But,” tells his mother Lucia, “the situation in the camp isn’t exactly ideal either, and it grows worse every day. A lot of organizations are dismantling their projects. Earlier, we could eat two times a day, but since last month there is only enough for one meal a day. Since the crisis in 2014, we have been living on ration.”


“Supported by Light for the World, Johndy could get surgery in Uganda,” Lucia tells us happily. “Due to his injuries, Johndy could barely walk, even with crutches. The doctors removed the bullet from his leg and he got therapy to help his joints and muscles gain more flexibility.”
“Through the support of Light for the World Johndy’s life changed for the better. Before the operation, Johndy just sat near our tent, day after day. Now, after the surgery and with the constant physical rehabilitation, he wanders around all over the camp. He is very popular with the other children”, says his mother Lucia. Johndy adds: “My friends often pick me up,” Johndy affirms. “We hang out together, within and outside the camp. I can even play football again!”