Micheál Mac Suibhne

Foreign Assignment

South Sudan

Situated 45 minutes to the north of Juba, Malakal is the capital of the Upper Nile Region. The town is largely abandoned now after being taken by opposition forces six times since fighting broke out last December. On the outskirts lies the UN Refugee Camp which is occupied by around 20,000 men, women and children.
All images and video were captured and edited with an iPhone
Last week, I travelled to South Sudan to cover the repercussions of the ongoing civil war there. The conflict began in December 2013 and much of the population, from three tribes, have fled their homes for the countryside or refugee camps, established by the UN. In these camps large numbers of people live in very close proximity to each other. With three months of rain ahead, the situation is becoming desperate, despite the efforts of aid agencies such as UNICEF, Oxfam Ireland, Trócaire, Gorta and Médecins Sans Frontières.
When the weather is dry, living in a refugee camp is bad enough but with the rainy season under way, conditions are even worse. Mud flows and stagnates everywhere, people have to wade through it to get from A to B. Sometimes mud-levels are above waste-level. To us, it is beyond comprehension that people could live in such conditions. But with a bloody civil war going on outside the camp, there really is no choice.
My job is to shoot, edit and to deliver reports to RTÉ News. They can be stories from home or from anywhere in the world. For foreign assignments, I use the same camera I use in Ireland. The camera is wired to a laptop, on which the story is edited. Once complete, a piece of software is used to transfer the story to Dublin.
On this trip I would be travelling with RTÉ reporter Laura Fletcher, a very experienced storyteller. Planning began the week before the journey. Bags were packed with equipment, along with clothing, footwear, food and all manner of First Aid packs. We would be spending four nights in a hotel in Juba, the capital city and two nights in tents, so that needed to be considered too.
A group of NGOs share an area just outside the gate of the refugee camp known as the Hub. Each tent has a capacity of about 16. Sleeping areas are protected in Mosquito pods. The temperature inside never fell below 24C degrees.
Juba has seen an outbreak of Cholera, the infection is spread by poor hygiene and the seasonal rains make the spread far more likely. UNICEF, along with the World Health Organisation, have established a special Cholera Treatment Unit in Juba.
Delivering aid in South Sudan is extremely difficult. As we travelled around Juba we got to experience the perils of very heavy rain on poor roads. Taking a corner onto a street where an interviewee lived, the front left hand side of our jeep fell into a deep rut, cut into the road by water.
During the five-day trip we filed numerous reports for radio and television news. It was an incredibly challenging experience and one which will stay with me for a long time. While I hope some sort of solution can be found to the crisis, my fear is that it is going to get worse before it gets better. If that happens, we will be returning to report from South Sudan once more.
Juba, South Sudan
The RTÉ and Oxfam Ireland team.
Outside the airport, I was immediately struck by how impoverished the people we met were. Malnutrition is a huge problem. The civil war has meant that farmers did not get to sow crops this year and the country is now suffering huge food shortages.
Ettie Higgins works with UNICEF, providing a safe hospital for children from all tribes.
Malakal, South Sudan
An Ilyushin Il-76, one of the largest cargo carrying aeroplanes in the world, taxis out to the runway in Malakal. The cargo this time is food, which will be air-dropped to where it is needed.
It took almost 24 hours to reach our destination. This was our approach into Juba airport. The countryside surrounding Juba is very flat but for one mountain, a rock with a flat top.