29 August 2013

South Sudan: Immense Humanitarian Needs in Jonglei

Pibor — Tens of thousands of people, many of them displaced, remain in need of humanitarian assistance in South Sudan's Jonglei State following clashes there in July.*

Some 74,000 residents of the state's Pibor County - around half of its entire population - have been registered to receive aid, notably food.

In all, some 42,000 have received food rations in different parts of the county, half of them in Pibor town. There have been no distributions in that town since a series of incidents precipitated a review of operations on 18 August, by which time the World Food Programme (WFP) had, according to spokeswoman Challis McDonough, helped the majority of those in need who had managed to reach the town.

On 29 August, WFP started distributing 15-day rations of sorghum, vegetable oil, pulses and salt to some of the 23,000 people from 20 villages that have been registered in the town of Gumuruk.

"In all we hope to reach 60,000 people, the vast majority women and children in Pibor County, many of whom will need help for the rest of the year because they missed the planting season," said McDonough.

"This is one of the most challenging environments in terms of security and logistics - there is a dire lack of usable roads at this time of year which means many places can only be reached by helicopter, which have a limited capacity and require security arrangements on the ground to ensure safe distribution," she said.

"People are suffering," said Moses Ajak, a representative in the commissioner's office.

Outside his window people who had been hiding in the bush for weeks and then walked for days - some up to a week - to register for the food packages are waiting in the yard, many without protection from the heavy rain.

"During the night we host as many as we can in the commissioner's office. Others are forced to sleep outside," Moses Ajak said.

Over 100,000 displaced

More than 100,000 people are still displaced or in other ways affected by the violence that broke out in July between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities, and following clashes between the government and a rebel group led by David Yau Yau.

Many of them are out of reach of humanitarian support. In Pibor town, some people who had already left their villages to come here to look for food were either left in town among the soldiers or returned home empty-handed.

"I came to Pibor when I heard they were handing out food," said Thalano Kolen who walked from the village of Lilot with her six remaining children. The other two, a boy and a small girl, were killed when groups of what Thalano believes was Lou Nuer youth attacked the village.

"We have been living in the bush without food or shelter for weeks. I gave the children some wild fruits but when they got diarrhoea I decided to come here. I do not feel safe staying in town with the soldiers but I cannot walk back to the village without food," Thalano said.

Many of the displaced are women and children. The men are hiding in the bush, afraid to come into town because of the military presence, the women explained.

Others, like Thalano Kolen's husband, were killed in the fighting.

They are left to fend for themselves in a region that remains cut off due to insecurity and heavy rains.

The rainy season, which turns roads, villages, market areas and cattle camps into mud, restricts the movement and reach of aid agencies. Only 10 percent of Jonglei is accessible by road during the rains.

Limited air assets and lack of useable airstrips make it difficult to reach the neediest, especially with heavy foodstuffs.

"People need plastic sheeting to build their 'tukuls' [huts]. They also need medical treatment, but most of all they need food," said James Nyikcho, who works with a local NGO in Pibor town.

In Pibor town local authorities and aid workers stressed the need for aid to resume.

"When two women were killed by SPLA [Sudanese People's Liberation Army] soldiers and one woman was raped coming to town, all NGOs left. I heard they might return at the beginning of September but no one knows for sure," said Moses Ajak at the commissioner's office.

Hopes for peace

In late July, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, who chairs the recently established National Reconciliation Commission, called for the full implementation of a peace agreement signed in May 2012 by the paramount chiefs of all six communities in Jonglei State.

In a statement, Deng said this agreement had set a "peace from the roots" process in motion but that this was subsequently derailed by Yau Yau, whose "rebellion against the central government is not part of the same dynamic as the conflict between communities" but has nonetheless drawn these communities back into conflict and rearmament.

"We believe that the 2012 Jonglei peace agreement is still a viable option," said the archbishop, who went on to urge Yau Yau to accept an amnesty offered by President Salva Kiir.

*This report was revised with new data on 29 August

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]

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