South Sudan: Delivering aid at the heart of the conflict

Dec 2013, Juba, South Sudan: People made homeless by fighting in South Sudan line up to register for aid at a UN compound in Juba, South Sudan. More than 500,000 people have been displaced by fighting that began in December 2013. Credit: OCHA
The story of one aid worker who has been trying to secure aid for thousands of people trapped by fighting in the eastern state of Jonglei.

Takesure Mugari has been working for OCHA in South Sudan for the past three years. Since the outbreak of conflict in mid-December, he has stayed alongside 9,000 people huddled for safety inside a UN peacekeeping base in Bor, in the eastern state of Jonglei.

Fighting has ravaged South Sudan for the past four weeks, forcing over half a million people to flee their homes. Thousands are estimated to have been killed and fighting quickly spread to six of the country’s 10 states.

The crisis came on top of an already difficult humanitarian situation. An estimated 4.4 million people were already in need of humanitarian assistance before the fighting. Over 188,000 people had been displaced by earlier violence in 2013, particularly in Jonglei State.

The epicentre of tensions

The eastern state of Jonglei has been at the epicentre of the fighting, with Government and opposition forces battling to control the capital, Bor. Fierce clashes over the past month have led to tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the state. An estimated 9,000 people have sought shelter at the UN peacekeeping compound in Bor town.

OCHA’s Mugari was in Bor when fighting broke out and since then has been at the forefront of relief efforts to help civilians trapped by the hostilities.

“Our job is to coordinate the delivery of food and water to people in need, including those sheltering in the UN compound,” he said. “But it hasn’t been easy. Moving food from a warehouse just 40 minutes away took us 10 days because of the gunfire.”

Aid bases looted and destroyed

Aid workers took advantage of the lull in hostilities last week to deliver food to the people in the base, including flying in much-needed water and sanitation supplies to construct toilets – a key step to preventing disease outbreaks.

However, insecurity continues to pose the biggest challenge to aid efforts in Jonglei State. Fighting has prevented aid workers from reaching people in need. Outside the peacekeeping base, all other UN and NGO compounds in Bor town have been looted and destroyed, depleting stocks of relief items. Similar looting has been reported in other parts of the country.

The aid community has suffered direct casualties from the fighting. At least three relief workers were killed by unidentified armed actors during the first week of the conflict. Many more have been wounded or remain missing. South Sudanese aid workers have been badly  affected, with many of them among the civilians sheltering in UN bases around the country, or fleeing elsewhere.

A quarter of a million have received aid

“The moment I remember being most scared,” reflects Takesure, “was after five mortars landed inside the UN base and we were told gunship helicopters were flying in from the capital to launch airstrikes.

“In the end, the UN compound was not attacked. We were lucky.”

Following the outbreak of violence, the humanitarian community quickly launched a large-scale aid operation to respond to people in need. Within days of the crisis breaking out, relief organizations were mobilizing medical assistance, clean water and food.

Since then, over 250,000 people have been reached with some kind of support. But aid groups say that more needs to be done to scale up the response operation. With new pockets of displacement reported daily, aid agencies are doing their utmost to assess the situation and respond to needs across the country.

$209 million to address immediate needs

The South Sudan Crisis Response Plan was launched on 31 December, appealing for US$209 million to meet the most immediate needs of the crisis between January and March. As of 13 January, aid agencies had secured around $109 million of the immediately requirements for the emergency response.

Takesure is about to return to Zimbabwe for a week to see his family. He considers his return to South Sudan: “I have lived through some of the worst moments of the fighting so far. But I am committed to returning.

“We all need to stand alongside South Sudan in its greatest hour of need, to do what we can, and hope the political solution that has come will end the nation’s suffering.”

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