On a good day, Betty Asianzo could earn between 500 and 1,000 South Sudanese pound (about 3 to 4 U.S. dollars) from vending firewood, enough to buy one kilogram of maize flour and some vegetables.
However, sales have dried up recently amid a partial lockdown imposed across the country in March to contain the COVID-19.
“I used to sell firewood to get food for my family but since businesses where closed last month, I no longer get customers,” the mother of eight children said.
“I also take responsibility of my family alone because my husband was caught up in Uganda with the lockdown,” Asianzo told Xinhua in an interview on Friday.
Asianzo’s clientele used to be brewers of local beer, but since the alcohol industry was ordered closed as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, she was left without any source of income.
“I now survive on handouts from my sisters because I don’t have any job. Life is really getting very difficult,” she said.
South Sudan reported its first COVID-19 case on April 5, and the number of confirmed cases has since risen to five.
The government acted swiftly by imposing a partial lockdown of the country, closing schools, religious institutions, non-essential businesses and banning social gatherings such as sports events, conferences, weddings, and funerals.
A ban on international passenger flights, internal transport and a night-time curfew also remains in place.
The pandemic has affected millions of vulnerable people, who are at risk of starvation since they can no longer fend for themselves.
“I used to get food from my son who used to do casual jobs, but since the lockdown, he stopped working and he does not have source of money,” said Martina Poni.
“These days we eat once a day. I have never seen a situation like this in my life,” the 70-year-old added.
Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19, South Sudan was already battling hunger crisis as more than half of the country’s population – about 6.5 million people – were expected to face severe food insecurity this year, according to the UN World Food Program (WFP).
“We cannot afford the basic items in the market because the prices have gone up. Every commodity has been hiked yet there is no source of getting money,” said 65-year-old Mary Nikodemo.
“Even buying vegetables alone has become very difficult.”
Tomson Piri, WFP spokesperson in South Sudan said the hunger crisis could even worsen with the emergence of COVID-19 and an invasion of desert locusts that devastated potential harvests.
“South Sudan is bracing for a looming crisis, even before the emergency COVID-19. We were expecting 6.1 million people to be in need of assistance,” Piri said.
In a bid to cushion the struggling families from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Piri said WFP is providing food assistance to nearly 150,000 people in the capital, Juba.
Known as Juba Urban Programme, the scheme provides cash transfers to vulnerable people such as pregnant mothers, the elderly and those critically ill to meet their food needs.
“We are currently facing shortfall amounting to over 350 million dollars in resourcing our activities,” Piri said.
“We appeal to the international community, the donors who have been very supportive to dig deeper into their pockets and make sure that we arrest this situation and prevent it from sliding into a worse catastrophe,” he added. Enditem