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MALAKAL, South Sudan, February 7 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency this week began distributing basic relief supplies to an estimated 10,000 people displaced by the recent conflict in and around Malakal, capital of South Sudan's Upper Nile state.
This is the first aid to reach the displaced people living outside the UN base in Malakal, which was the scene some of the fiercest fighting last month. Insecurity as well as widespread looting of humanitarian assets meant that UNHCR and other agencies had been unable to deliver aid until now to these people in Malakal, which lies some 600 kilometres north of the South Sudan capital.
According to UN estimates, there are around 38,000 displaced people in Malakal, including some 28,000 sheltered in a UN base. The displaced fled from within the county of Malakal and from Jonglei state.
There are many women, children and older people among the displaced. To reach the city of Malakal, some said they had used boats to cross the White Nile while some others swam across the river. Women said they walked for four hours with their children before crossing.
"We are taking advantage of the relative calm following the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement between the warring forces on 23rd January 2014 to deliver aid to the most vulnerable," said spokeswoman Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba. "Since Tuesday, we have given aid to more than 3,000 displaced and hope to reach the rest of the target group by the end of next week."
The aid items including plastic sheeting jerry cans, buckets, kitchen sets, mosquito nets, sleeping mats and blankets were airlifted into the Malakal airport from the UNHCR regional stockpile in Nairobi. The refugee agency is distributing the items in close collaboration with sister UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies that are part of the collaborative relief effort.
Most of the displaced have been staying in schools and other sites for weeks while others continue arriving from Khorflus in neighbouring Jonglei state or from nearby villages, citing fear and insecurity despite the truce.
"Some of the displaced have told our emergency staff that the security situation in their villages continues to be tense and that they could not work or survive in that kind of environment. The city of Malakal itself remains largely deserted and civilians continue to flee to and from it," said Lejeune-Kaba.
With more than 153,000 displaced people, Upper Nile has the second largest concentration of displaced people in South Sudan, after Unity state, where more than 188,000 people have been uprooted since fighting broke out in mid-December. The crisis has also forced into exile more than 131,000 South Sudanese to neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.