A safe haven on the Nile: life in South Sudan’s Old Fangak – in pictures

Before civil war erupted, Old Fangak was home to about 5,000 people. But since December 2013, the remote town in South Sudan’s Jonglei state has become a refuge for people fleeing the fighting, swelling its numbers tenfold


For Nyauargak Bap, coming to Old Fangak meant coming home. The mother of four was born here but had been living in Malakal, a city 100 miles to the north-east, when fighting broke out and she fled home for safety. She is now expecting her fifth child


Nyauargak Bap’s hometown, on the Phow River, has become a major place of refuge for people displaced by a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people across South Sudan. With worsening violence in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states, many people in the country’s south-east have fled along the rivers to the county of Fangak, considered one of the safest places in the area as it is so isolated, with natural islands accessible only by boat or plane. It sits in one of the world’s largest wetlands, the Sudd.3.png

Old Fangak’s market has been transformed to provide a refuge for displaced people arriving in the town, with waterproof tarpaulins stretched over its stalls 4.png

There are no roads into the town, and aid supplies are delivered by boat, or in small planes that land in the tiny aerodrome5.png

People travel in and out of Old Fangak through natural docks such as this one, on the Phow River. It also provides a spot for bathing, as well as washing clothes and dishes6

The town’s remote location means patients, including heavily pregnant women, often have to walk or row for hours from the surrounding areas to reach its health centre. In the emergency ward of the Médecins Sans Frontières clinic in Old Fangak, a midwife and two nurses battle to resuscitate a newborn baby. Tragically, the child will not survive7.png

The mother of four-month-old Nyapa Bidit walked for 14 hours from a nearby village to reach the clinic, where Nyapa was admitted for 11 days with a respiratory infection and malaria 8.png

As night falls in the paediatric ward, mosquito nets are set out to protect patients from bites and reduce the risk of malaria. A young mother feeds her 18-month-old daughter, after walking for two days to reach the clinic. The child had a fever for a fortnight and no one expected her to  survive, but after receiving oxygen and antibiotics, she seems to be improving. Doctors suspect meningitis or a chest infection9.png

Educational provision is patchy for the town’s children. In the old Catholic church, run by Comboni missionaries, students take their primary school certificate; the youngest candidate is 16 and the oldest is 35. In Old Fangak, girls drop out of school if they become pregnant, while their babies’ fathers remain in class


Teachers on a training session in Old Fangak listen to their instructor. About 70 teachers gather here from schools across the county to undergo extra training, provided by the organisation Mothering Across Continents11.png

The signs of conflict and destroyed infrastructure are visible all around the area. In New Fangak, the site of the county offices, the governor’s palace stands in ruins. The town was once a stronghold of SPLM rebels, but the area was attacked by government forces in November 2014 and the rebels lost control – though they later claimed to have retaken it.12.png

Football is a popular pastime. Here, a team nicknamed ‘Paris Saint Germain’ meets the ‘Young Talents’. The captain of PSG says: ‘We like the style of Paris players. They’re a team that plays football [in the same way] that we do here. We love French football, based on its speed’13.png

Men crowd into the local cinema at the market, to watch an English Premier League match14.png

On the banks of the White Nile in Old Fangak, young men from the village of Diehl take part in a fighting display


Another displaced family make their way along the White Nile in a dugout, south of Old Fangak. There is little sign that the stream of people seeking safety will end. Across the whole of South Sudan, 1.74 million people are displaced, and 2.47 million have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the continuing violence


Reference list: Frederic Noy. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2018/may/25/safe-haven-nile-south-sudan-old-fangak-in-pictures

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