Blog - ECHO in the field

Retaliatory attacks worry aid workers in Jonglei State, South Sudan

Trail of destruction: Market stalls and houses burnt down in Duk Padiet

Credit for photo: Marilena CHATZIANTONIOU, European Commission, DG Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), Juba – SOUTH SUDAN

29/01/2012 – In a second visit to Jonglei State within the first three weeks of January, Marilena Chatziantoniou, EU humanitarian aid expert, finds a worryingly grim humanitarian situation.

Aid workers in South Sudan, and especially here in Jonglei, are worried a lot, and you can see why. Attacks and counter-attacks between the Murle and the Lou-Nuer ethnic groups have sparked a major humanitarian crisis; one that is not so easy to deal with. People here are extremely poor and conflict is an additional shock that they cannot possibly cope with.

This last wave of counter attacks left thousands homeless in the Duk county. When we visited the town centre, chicken, goats, sheep and pigs were roaming the deserted streets foraging for food. Their human companions had scampered, A sizable population had left the town just before the big attack which took place on the evening of 16 January. They got word that a nearby village had been torched and quickly fled, nevertheless the commissioner of Duk county says that about 100 people were killed.

The village of Duk Padiet is a popular gathering point for herders on their way to grazing near the river in an area called Toch. The riverside is a heaven for livestock during the dry season where there is water and pasture, away from the dry scrub. But with the escalating conflict, the herders’ use of this important land is being put in jeopardy.

If the figures given by the commissioner of Duk county are anything to go by, the people here have lost all their sources of income. First, the market was razed to the ground; traders lost their stock as well as their stalls. Hundreds of cattle, sheep and goats were stolen and homes destroyed.

It’s difficult to tell if Jonglei has seen the last of these deadly counter-clashes. But most people are pessimistic. Security has been beefed up, but the local authorities say this is not enough.

The World Food Programme lost aid supplies in this attack. But this has not affected the food distribution targeting over 7,000 people. Some of the supplies have to be flown in using helicopters, making it quite costly to deliver relief aid here. However, this has been necessary as trucks take weeks to get here due to the deplorable state of the roads.

The European Commission supported the deployment of one of the helicopters that has created a lifeline to the victims of conflict in Jonglei. The helicopter is unrivalled when it comes to delivering aid quickly. To meet the need to deliver aid quickly the helicopter is unrivalled. A drawback is of course the extra cost of aid delivery. The helicopter makes up for that by being able to fly in tons of medicine and food at a time, or carry out a medical evacuation from remote villages. Equipped for these demanding tasks the helicopter has proved its worth as an essential tool to the aid community in Jonglei and has undoubtedly contributed to saving lives.

Meanwhile life is slowly returning to normal in Likuangole, a village totally wiped out last December. Families still stay in the bush during the night, but close by. Aid supplies are in, armed security men lend people a sense of safety; but one administrator here says that cattle only bring trouble. The people want to farm, rather than keep animals. Cattle rustling is one of the main causes of conflict in Jonglei. People in Likuangole feel that a shift to cultivating the land will result in peaceful co-existence.  Whether the cycle of violence will eventually result in change of the livelihood options in Jonglei remains to be seen.

By Marilena CHATZIANTONIOU
European Commission, Juba, South Sudan

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