Juba — Civilians fleeing from conflict in South Sudan are spiralling into debt and leaving behind important assets in their desperate search for safety. Worldwide development agency Oxfam fears the loss of property and precious possessions like livestock and crops will shatter people's future ability to get back on their feet.
Nearly half a million people have been forced to leave everything behind to seek refuge across South Sudan and in neighboring countries, with ferrymen and bus drivers often charging extortionate fees for the privilege of transport. People escaping the conflict in the town of Bor (Jonglei State) are being charged between $40 and $130 per person to make the dangerous crossing across the Nile on overcrowded barges.
Others wanting to escape violence and uncertainty in the capital Juba are paying $40 per person to travel just a couple of hours south to the town of Nimule (Eastern Equatoria) on the Ugandan border. With the average monthly salary for a teacher at $220, these prices are out of the normal reach of the majority of the population who earn considerably less working as casual laborers or in informal employment.
Selling everything they own
Scores of people are being forced to trade or sell every asset they own, often with the pressure of encroaching violence, to scrape together enough money to ensure they can afford for their families to reach relative safety.
José Barahona, Country Director for Oxfam in South Sudan said:
"Vulnerable people across the country have seen their safety nets unravel in front of them in the space of a month since the conflict began. People are now having to sell whole herds of cattle to pay for their families to reach safety, others are having to make the painful decision of who they can afford to bring with them and who must be left behind.
"Oxfam is seeing people arrive in settlements in Juba and Awerial county with nothing but the clothes on their backs, no way to make money and as yet, no way to return home. In a couple of months when the planting season starts, I worry already hungry people still won't have the security to settle and grow food for their families.
Ceasefire and peace talks
"Oxfam and other aid agencies are doing what they can to help provide aid to the most vulnerable but it's critical that all parties to the conflict open their eyes to this nation on the brink and cease hostilities immediately. Ahead of further mediation talks in Addis Ababa on Monday, we urge negotiators to trust in diplomacy as the route to saving South Sudan."
Oxfam surveyed new arrivals to Awerial displaced person settlement this week and found over half of families had got themselves into debt with ferrymen or neighbors to make the treacherous ten hour crossing through the tributaries of the river Nile on overcrowded barges to safety. Only five per cent of families had brought any kind of asset with which they could trade for a little food or money. Several families reported their houses burnt or leaving valuable assets like goats, chickens and bags of harvested food to the mercy of looters on the other side of the river.
Oxfam is there
Oxfam is working to help people affected by the recent violence in South Sudan and has been operating in the two UN bases in Juba and the displaced person settlement in Awerial county since the early days of the conflict. Oxfam is providing hundreds of thousands of liters of clean drinking water a day to people across the three locations as well as digging latrines and promoting good hygiene practices to ensure the risk of disease is limited.