South Sudan: Violence escalates in Pibor

24 Jul 2013

July 2013, Jonglei, South Sudan: UN relief supplies arrive in Dorein, Pibor County. An estimated 100,000 people have been cut-off from life-saving assistance by violence in Pibor County in South Sudan’s troubled Jonglei State.Credit: UN/Perrett
An estimated 100,000 people have been cut-off from life-saving assistance by violence in Pibor County in South Sudan's troubled Jonglei State.

An estimated 100,000 people in Pibor County in eastern South Sudan’s Jonglei State have been cut off from life-saving assistance due to fighting between State and non-state armed groups and a resurgence of inter-communal clashes.

Tens of thousands of these people have been forced to flee their homes, with many seeking refuge in the bush. They are surviving on berries and leaves, and living without access to clean water, shelter or medical assistance. Thousands of people have also fled to the capital, Juba, and the neighbouring state of Eastern Equatoria, while many more have sought refuge in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

This latest bout of violence started in March when hostilities intensified between the South Sudan army and a non-state armed group. The impact of these clashes has been exacerbated by a new wave of inter-communal fighting between communities living in Jonglei State.

Mary Gayi is one of those people who was forced to flee. “I fled leaving my family behind and I don’t know what is happening to them now,” she says. “We haven’t been able to communicate since I made it to Juba.”

Mary is one of the estimated 5,000 people now living in the grounds of a church in Jebel, a suburb west of Juba. About 2,000 others have found refuge in the nearby neighbourhoods of Konyo Konyo, Munuki and Suk Sita.

“We came here with nothing”

“Our homes, schools and farms were destroyed in the fighting,” says Rachel Nyadi. She is also camped in the grounds of the church on the outskirts of Juba, living in a tiny hut made out of twigs, mud and papyrus mats. “We came here with nothing. Friends helped us with food and blankets, but those were not enough. We need food, water containers, cooking utensils and medicine.”

This community has no plans of returning to Pibor soon. “We have decided to remain where we are until the security situation returns to normal,” said Albino Kaka, a community elder. “The key issue is to encourage dialogue and reconciliation that will lead to a durable solution for us.”

This could take some time. Pibor County, home to about 148,000 people, has been the scene of some of South Sudan’s worst violence since independence in 2011. Historically, rival communities have fought over cattle and pasturing grounds, but in recent years violence has intensified. About 900 people were killed in a wave of hostilities between December 2011 and March 2012, and close to 100 people were killed in nearby Akobo County in February 2013.

Negotiating access

OCHA and its partners are working with State and non-state armed groups to negotiate access to communities in crisis.

“This work has started to pay off,” said Cathy Howard, OCHA’s Deputy Head of Office in South Sudan.

“In the past two weeks, we have been on the ground with partners, carrying out assessments and providing assistance. Aid agencies identified about 25,000 people in Dorein and Labrab (in Pibor County), and we are now delivering food, medical assistance, mosquito nets and water purification tablets to them. Now that we have managed to access people who have been cut off for months, a concerted response is underway.”

But thousands more people are still hiding in the bush, too fearful of insecurity to seek relief and assistance.

“What will you do if you are attacked again?” asked one aid worker to a woman displaced in Dorein.

“We have nowhere left to run,” she replied. “We will die here.”

Families separated, livelihoods destroyed

“Jonglei State’s social fabric has been torn apart by the incessant fighting,” said OCHA’s Howard. “The fighting has caused enormous damage beyond the immediate human casualties. Families have been separated, livelihoods destroyed and efforts to rebuild trust have been interrupted.”

In Juba, Mary Lotiko remains optimistic. “We are too afraid of the situation in Pibor. We could rebuild our place, but there is fighting now,” she said. “I am hopeful that one day I will return home.”

Reporting by Odongi Loyo, OCHA South Sudan

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