South Sudan: UN launches massive humanitarian operation after inter-communal clashes

3 January, 2012
3 December 2011: UNMISS Force Commander Moses Obi talking to displaced people in Pibor, Jonglei state. Credit: UNMISS
3 December 2011: UNMISS Force Commander Moses Obi talking to displaced people in Pibor, Jonglei state. Credit: UNMISS

The UN is mounting a “massive emergency support programme” to help thousands of people return home after inter-communal clashes between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities in South Sudan’s Jonglei state.

The announcement came as Lou Nuer fighters withdrew from a potentially major confrontation in the town of Pibor, after UN peacekeepers and government forces set up defensive positions.

The latest in a series of retalitory attacks started when a group of 6,000-8,000 armed Lou Nuer youth marched on two large Murle towns in the South Sudanese state of Jonglei.

They first attacked Likuangole, which was only lightly defended, and then began marching on Pibor. As many as 50,000 people fled their advance, as international and government forces set up a defensive perimeter.

After intense negotiations, the fighters agreed to leave, and the situation could improve. But thousands of people now need food, water and shelter. Aid agencies are assessing their needs.

“The situation in humanitarian terms is grim,” Lise Grande, UN Humanitarian Coordinator, told reporters in New York by video link. 

“They haven’t had food; they haven’t had access to clean water. In a number of cases, some of the people are wounded. They haven’t had shelter. As the day progresses, you can see hundreds of people coming back into town and there is no question they are in trouble.”

WFP has flown in the first food supplies for the most vulnerable – including unaccompanied and orphaned children. Agencies will continue to provide help over the coming week.

Ms. Grande noted that despite the fighting and destruction, a much greater disaster had been averted. “At no point did Pibor ever fall,” she said. “We rescued civilians, evacuated civilians, and we also helped deter violence. We are now providing emergency assistance to the people in Jonglei who need it the most.”

In 2011, more than 1,100 people have lost their lives, and some 63,000 people have been displaced by inter-communal violence in Jonglei state. The number of people killed and displaced from the latest spate of attacks is yet to be confirmed.