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AWEIL - 17 Feb 2021

Limited services, absence of government hinder Covid-19 fight in Aweil

Women and small girls gather at a water source in Aweil 13 February 2021 [Photo: Radio Tamazuj]
Women and small girls gather at a water source in Aweil 13 February 2021 [Photo: Radio Tamazuj]

Residents of Aweil town in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State say although they are aware of the Covid-19 pandemic, they are not able to follow the preventive measures by the government to contain its spread due to a lack of basic services. 

The government of South Sudan recently announced stringent measures, including putting a halt to public gatherings and functions, to contain the spread of the virus. But efforts to mitigate the soaring infection rates are however facing a major setback as many people across the country ignore or simply do not have the luxury of abiding by the preventive measures. 

Representing a group of women queuing at a crowded water point in Aweil Town, Abur Garang, a young lady told Radio Tamazuj that they lack sufficient water points forcing them to gather at the only functional borehole in her area.

“At this borehole of ours, there is always a big crowd and it is not easy to get water. Somebody will stay for two hours without getting water. It is the only borehole and if we continue like this, it is not good and coronavirus will catch people. The crowding doesn’t decrease at all. We don’t have money to purchase face masks and we might get infected,” she said.

They demanded the installation of more boreholes so that current challenges may be addressed in line with the preventive measures.

Unemployment has also forced the people to engage in communal daily work which renders them unable to follow the health guidelines. 

Deng Mangar, a boda-boda rider in Aweil said, “There is no money at the moment but if I get it, I will buy the face mask and carry only one passenger. Lack of money is a problem.” 

He said that the boda-boda business is not profitable and he only does it because of a lack of better opportunities. 

Religious groups in Aweil say they abide by the government orders and will continue with their activities to defeat the disease. 

“For us as faith leaders, it is very good that the government is serious about the pandemic. Thanks to God, we will fight this disease through religion, through the calling so that Allah may wave the curse and bring healing. We are standing with our government as Muslims and Christians so that God may take away the plague that came upon us,’’ Garang Diing Ruoch, said at the Aweil Main Mosque.

A Christian believer, Angelina Amath Wol, whom we met at a church in Aweil’s Maper Akot suburb on Sunday said she is optimistic and will continue going to church for prayers because only God will help deliver South Sudanese from the plague. 

“If we don’t sit down and ask God, the disease called coronavirus will stay in our land of South Sudan. And when we ask God, God brings help. We are not worried about coronavirus because we are the poor people and our father Jesus watches over us and will not allow the coronavirus to kill us,’’ Angelina Amath said with conviction.

But Sudanese hawker Al-Tief Ibrahim Madowy said the government order is clear and enforceable despite his door-to-door movements disbursing his wares. 

“Of course, it was said that all meetings are canceled, and thank God some people are obeying. There are not many gatherings, no crowds. We are now few, and we heard the government’s decision and it is the first and the last. We are with the government,” Ibrahim said.

“I am a hawker and I don’t have a permanent place. I retail things, like clothes and perfumes and so on, in my hands and move with them. I don’t have a shop and I never go where there is a crowd,’’ he added.

On Saturday last week, a congregation of more than 300 people conducted day-long prayers in Aweil town. 

Garang Akuei, a church member who attended the prayers said, “Our prayers were very interesting; many visitors came from different places to the church and they were happy. We are happy with the way God calls people to our church. Of course, we are adhering to the guidelines of distancing between people. We are also teaching health lessons at the church and we are also telling believers how people should keep their health.’’

John Agany Deng, an official at the Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal State health ministry said his department has informed the public about the new orders but that the communities have remained adamant. 

Agany revealed that the state has recorded about 14 Covid-19 cases with one death case in January and February 2021. He fears that coronavirus cases are soaring in the state. 

“After the recent lockdown, the letter issued by the vice president, the chairperson of the COVID-19 task force in South Sudan, Hussein Abdalbhagi Ayii Akol, we came and went to the radios and informed all our public about the same message,’’ Agany said. “There was no social distancing, there was no respect and observance of COVID-19 measures. We have discussed a lot with the public but there is no change.’’

Gatherings, parties, and crowded religious events are freely conducted in Aweil and the organized forces admitted that they are not enforcing the orders because there are no official directives to them by state authorities. 

Major Madut Ngong, the police’s director of administration in Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal State attributed the laxity in enforcement to the absence of a functional state government. 

“The order came from the central government and the state government has not yet been appointed and implementation needs a state government to be in place and addresses the state police and after that, the state police will start with full implementation,’’ Major Ngong said. 

He added, “We know all the problems, but we cannot start dispersing gatherings, parties, and weddings. People are disobeying. The police alone cannot start dispersing the gatherings when the state government is not ready and have not given us an official letter so that we will disperse huge crowds.”