South Sudan: 6 things you need to know about the humanitarian crisis

Month-long violence forces nearly half a million from their homes; over 74,000 have fled the country. Credit: OCHA
Month-long violence forces nearly half a million from their homes; over 74,000 have fled the country.

Fighting broke out in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, on 15 December and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Within a week, several states had been affected with Bor, Bentiu, Juba and Malakal the most heavily hit areas.

A large-scale humanitarian operation was quickly launched to respond to the urgent needs of hundreds of thousands of civilians affected by the violence. The crisis is exacerbating what was already a difficult humanitarian situation in the youngest and one of the poorest countries in the world. Before the crisis, some 4.4 million people needed humanitarian assistance. South Sudan is also home to nearly quarter of a million Sudanese refugees, many of whom fled violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Below are six things you need to know about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in South Sudan.

Half a million people forced from their homes

An estimated 413,000 people have been internally displaced by fighting in South Sudan and over 74,000 more have fled to neighbouring countries, as of 14 January. Aid agencies believe that the number of internally displaced people could be much higher, as insecurity and logistical constraints have prevented relief workers from travelling outside towns.

The largest concentration of displaced people is in Awerial County where over 84,000 have fled and are in need of assistance. Another 66,000 people are sheltering in 10 UN peacekeeping bases across the country.

74,000 South Sudanese are sheltering in neighbouring countries

Over 74,000 people have fled South Sudan; many them have arrived in Uganda (27,000). The UN Refugee Agency reports that 4,000 to 5,000 people arrive in Uganda every day. The wave of refugees is straining the coping mechanisms of neighbouring countries, some of which, like Uganda, already host refugees from countries including from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

About 80 per cent of the South Sudanese refugees are children and aid agencies are concerned about their wellbeing and safety.

Access restrictions pose challenges for aid agencies

Humanitarian access continues to be severely constrained by ongoing fighting, attacks on aid workers and supplies, and interference in aid deliveries. At least three aid workers were killed by unidentified armed men during the first week of the crisis. Many more have been wounded or are missing. National humanitarian workers have been particularly badly affected by the violence, with many seeking safety at UN bases around the country or elsewhere.

In Bor, which has been under the control of both government and opposition forces at different times over the past weeks, all UN and NGO compounds have reportedly been looted and destroyed. Reports of looting of relief goods and health facilities appear to be widespread in areas of the country where hostilities have taken place or are ongoing.

Aid agencies have reached over 200,000 people with assistance so far

Within days of the crisis breaking out, relief organizations were mobilizing food, clean water and medical assistance for people in need. Since then, 203,000 people have been reached with some kind of support. Humanitarian agencies have been reaching people in rural areas as well as at the UN bases.

However, more needs to be done to scale up the response operation. The greatest needs on the ground are water, sanitation, healthcare, food and shelter. Physical protection of civilians is also a key priority for humanitarian organizations. With new pockets of displacement reported daily, aid agencies are doing their best to assess the situation and respond to needs across the country, often facing very challenging security and logistical conditions.

Aid agencies have appealed for $209 million urgently assist people affected by the conflict

Of the $1.1 billion required for humanitarian action in 2014, $209 million is needed to respond to the immediate needs caused by the current crisis until March. Of this, $104 million has already been secured. The overall requirements for 2014 are needed to support 3.1 million people who require humanitarian assistance and longer-term aid.  

The protection of civilians remains a top priority for the humanitarian community

Keeping civilians safe is a major concern for humanitarian partners in South Sudan. The UN has appealed to all sides of the conflict to respect their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights laws.

Civilians must be protected, and civilian facilities including medical clinics and hospitals should not be targeted. Aid organizations must be allowed to access everyone who needs assistance, no matter where they are. Aid workers, including national staff, who are risking their lives every day to assist their communities, must be able to reach people in need safely.

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