(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries in South Sudan are working with local populations as the effects of coronavirus spread across the country. There is a serious economic crisis happening in South Sudan mainly due to the drop in oil prices, the devaluation of the local currency and excessive dependence on imports. Commodity prices are at an all-time high, and it is estimated that 5.29 million people (45 percent of the population) were living in conditions of severe food insecurity as of January 2020.
On April 5, 2020, South Sudan confirmed the first case of COVID-19, after which the government issued restrictive measures to prevent the spread of the virus. The restrictions had an impact on the local economy, causing commodity prices to rise and creating stress in the markets and insecurity in the population.
There are five Salesian communities in the country. In Gumbo, Salesian missionaries have a parish, a technical-vocational training center, elementary and middle schools, a women's promotion center, and a youth center. There is also a camp for internally displaced persons directly managed by the Salesians. The camp currently has 9,800 people---not counting very young children---who have all fled the violence of the 2013-2016 civil war.
Salesian missionaries have continued their work on behalf of the most vulnerable families. There have been distributions of food, water and basic necessities, such as sanitary kits, mattresses, soap and plastic sheets to cover the roofs. Awareness campaigns were also launched to ensure that refugees were following protocols directed by the Ministry of Health to ensure proper hygiene to help stop the spread of the virus.
"The biggest fear we have is an epidemic in the camp. The tents are close and there is no room for social distancing," reported Salesians working in Gumbo. "Controlling the masses for any type of distribution is very difficult. The camp is adjacent to several crowded local communities. It is impossible to prevent the flow of people between the camp and these communities because there is no separation wall around the camp."
Instability in the country remains high. Funding is inadequate and fails to meet the needs of all internally displaced persons nor does it cover medical expenses for the elderly and sick. Furthermore, the constant fluctuation of prices and the consequent economic difficulties remain a challenge for the country's most vulnerable individuals. Salesians continue to assess the local needs and provide relief support as they can.
South Sudan is expansive and largely rural with 83 percent of the population residing in rural areas. Poverty is endemic with at least 80 percent of the population defined as income-poor and living on the equivalent of less than $1 per day, according to the World Bank. More than one-third of the population lacks secure access to food.