NAIROBI (AlertNet) – A United Nations convoy is struggling to cut through swamps to deliver aid to 20,000 displaced South Sudanese who have returned to the town of Pibor in Jonglei state following deadly inter-ethnic violence.
An estimated 60,000 people have been displaced in Jonglei since late December when some 6,000 armed members of the Lou Nuer tribe carried out a series of attacks on members of the rival Murle community.
“I am here because I need something to eat first. After that I will go out there in the bush and try to search for my lost children,” Sarah Lokocho, a returnee to Pibor, told the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
“I don’t know where they are now. Maybe they are dead already.”
South Sudan became Africa's newest nation in July after a referendum agreed under a 2005 peace deal with Sudan ended decades of civil war that had killed two million people
Jonglei, the largest state in South Sudan, is largely inaccessible by road.
“The only way that we can get in there is by air,” Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, told AlertNet.
“We are trying to get road access into Pibor (from the state capital, Bor). We sent a convoy up last night to try and break through the swampy areas. If they succeed, that’s going to be a huge help.”
The U.N. had to appeal to donors to provide funds to hire large helicopters to deliver supplies, in one of its most complicated and expensive operations in South Sudan since the 2005 end of the war there.
Pibor, the hub of response operations, is under the control of government and UNMISS soldiers who carry out daily land and air patrols.
“Pibor is calm. UNMISS is reinforcing its presence in key areas to help the government forces deployed to Jonglei to protect civilians,” UNMISS spokesman Kouider Zerrouk told AlertNet.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is flying in food and other emergency supplies to Pibor while the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is struggling to get Pibor Hospital up and running again.
“It’s been looted,” Jean-Marc Jacobs, MSF’s deputy head of mission in South Sudan, told AlertNet.
“Not much is usable which means we are flying everything in.”
MSF is working out of tents, treating people who have returned from the bush.
“There are people who have been injured during the violence or injured trying to flee, running in the bush, falling or hitting branches… we have a few gunshot wounds,” said Jacobs.
“We have a lot of malaria and other more normal diseases for this area.”
BURNT TO THE GROUND
On Friday, MSF will send a team 30km (19 miles) north of Pibor to the village of Likuangole, which was razed on Dec. 26 and 27.
They are trying to trace 70 local staff who worked in their Likuangole clinic, which was destroyed.
“Of course we fear for the worst but we don’t know. We can only keep looking,” said Jacobs.
WFP is establishing an operational base in Likuangole and the U.N. Children’s Fund, UNICEF, is preparing to repair water points there.
“We know that people want to get back to Likuangole but until there is some kind of a (humanitarian) presence there, it’s going to be pretty tough for them,” said Grande.
“It was burnt to the ground… nothing’s there.”
Conflict between Lou Nuer members and Murle members in Jonglei caused hundreds of deaths in 2011. Experts have called on the government to strengthen reconciliation efforts and its security presence in the remote, impoverished state, which is awash with weapons.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)