26/01/2012 – On January 10, an inter-agency mission visited Pibor and Likuangole towns to gauge the needs of the affected populations. In this mission was one of the European Commission’s experts based in Juba.
An entire village burnt to the ground, dozens of unaccompanied children, a school that now serves as a shelter to those that fled their homes, numerous people in need of medical assistance, looted compounds of humanitarian organizations – wherever we turn, we see human suffering and destruction. These are the consequences of the last outburst of fighting in a deadly cycle of violence between Murle and Lou Nuer in South Sudan.
In 2011 four heavy clashes took place in a space of months: One in March in the Pibor area and a repeat attack in June; another in August in Pieri village; and the most recent one on the Christmas Eve in Likuangole.
By the beginning of January the fighting in Likuangole had spread southwards to Pibor and then to Fertait and Bilait, south of Pibor river.
We visited the town of Pibor on 10 January, almost two weeks after the fighting abated. Aid work ground to halt after compounds of two international non-governmental organizations were completely looted, homes too were looted, but the huts were not too badly damaged. The conflict however, did empty the town. Everyone fled into the bush. Two weeks later, the people are slowly coming back. The market is sluggishly returning to normal and food is available, though the prices of commodities are unusually high.
Pibor is also hosting a new population. Displaced families from Likuangole Payam (district), which is about six hours walking distance from Pibor, are slowly making their way here. The situation in Likuangole is catastrophic. The whole town was razed to the ground, reducing the tukuls (traditional huts) and the property to ashes. The few people we met told us that most civilians managed to escape before the attack. Certainly some people were killed, but it is very difficult to verify the numbers.
Now residents of Likuangole are coming out from their hiding areas and arriving at Pibor town. Some are being hosted in a school waiting for help; others are living with the local community. It is estimated that over 20,000 displaced people have so far arrived in Pibor County with more coming everyday. Almost 120 unaccompanied children are staying in the residential compound of the county’s Commissioner.
However as the situation is still very tense it is believed that a high number of people remain in the bush. Altogether it is estimated that some 50,000 to 60,000 people were displaced in this last bout of fighting.
The biggest concern is the increasingly limited humanitarian space and the fear of retaliation attacks. In Pibor for instance, compounds belonging to two agencies providing much needed healthcare and humanitarian aid were looted. Some medical services are not yet up and running and patients have had to be referred to far-off hospitals in Boma or even to the capital Juba.
When we visited Pibor, we were told that the Lou Nuer were on the way, returning to “their” capital Akobo, with some 60,000 to 80,000 heads of cattle. This is more than 80 percent of the livelihood assets of the Murle people.
Worrying reports allege that a group of armed Murle warriors are also moving towards Akobo, raising the fears of retaliatory attacks. On 13 January such an attack took place in Uror county leaving according to local media 55 people dead, 52 injured and 40 children abducted.
The people of Jonglei state certainly need a lot of humanitarian support, but aid workers are facing severe difficulties in accessing the affected populations. Once on the ground, humanitarian workers can only address some of the consequences of conflict, but they cannot address its root causes. That is a bigger and more challenging task that can only be accomplished with trust building, conflict resolution and reconciliation measures.
By Marilena CHATZIANTONIOU
European Commission, Juba, South Sudan
- Blog: Retaliatory attacks worry aid workers in Jonglei State, South Sudan
- Blog: Congratulations on the Freedom. Welcome to the Problems (2011)
- Blog: EU Humanitarian Aid Partner Medair Saves Lives in South Sudan (2011)
- Tens of thousands more become refugees fleeing conflict in North Sudan (Doro Refugee Camp, Bunj, South Sudan) (2011)
- Humanitarian challenges in South Sudan (2011)