South Sudan: Stay, protect and deliver

Dec 2013, South Sudan: Registration at Tomping started on 23 December. Here, people register with IOM before collecting the relief supplies. Credit: OCHA
Aid organizations try to ensure the safety and wellbeing of thousands of families affected by recent fighting in Juba and elsewhere.

Heavy fighting broke on 15 December in South Sudan’s capital Juba and quickly spread to four other states, forcing over 120,000 people to flee their homes. Some 63,000 people have sought refuge at the UN peacekeeping bases around the country. Despite the access challenges caused by insecurity, aid organizations are reaching people with life-saving aid, including food, water and sanitation.

“This is a massive set-back for the people of South Sudan,” said the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer. “We are looking at a major increase in need, coming on top of what was already one of the world’s largest aid operations.” The fighting came just weeks after aid organizations launched an appeal for $1.1 billion to meet people’s basic needs in 2014.

Protection as a top concern

In all areas affected by violence, protection of civilians remains a top concern for aid organizations. In Juba, a protection team visited several of the neighbourhoods where fighting took place, and found most homes deserted and looted.

“Across the country, civilians are bearing the brunt of this unrest, and we are hearing harrowing stories of killings and abuses,” added Vincent Lelei, head of the OCHA office in South Sudan.

“Even in Juba, where there has been no major fighting since 17 December, many of the people displaced remain too afraid to return to their homes. Making sure that people are safe is paramount, and we urge all parties to the violence to keep civilians out of the fighting and ensure that they can access assistance freely.”

Today, aid organizations are implementing programmes and services to help protect displaced people, especially women and children, in camps. They have been monitoring the camps in Juba and helping people who have suffered from violence and trauma to receive medical and psychosocial support.

Seeking a safe place

Sitting under a temporary shelter made of pieces of tarpaulin and a few poles, John cradles his four-day-old baby. Sunday, named after the day he was born, came into the world on 15 December. The next morning, amid gunfire in their neighbourhood, the family decided to flee to one of the two UN peacekeeping bases in the capital, Juba. A total of 25,000 people have sought refuge at the bases.

Now John lives with his wife, three children and four other relatives in the makeshift site which has sprung up on the base, hosting some 11,000 displaced people seeking protection from the violence. They feel safe, he says, but the living conditions are challenging.

“The children are healthy for now, but the water and sanitation situation is bad. We also need better shelters.”

Humanitarian response underway

Aid agencies have scaled up the response to displaced families in the bases in Juba. Emergency medical clinics are up and running, latrines are being dug, and NGOs and UN agencies are working around the clock to make sure the people are getting the assistance that they need.

Humanitarian organizations are trying to get more access to people affected by the crisis in other parts of the country. In Jonglei State’s capital Bor, where fighting raged for several days last week, the humanitarian situation is dire. An estimated 15,000 civilians at the UN base there urgently need more access to food, healthcare, clean water and proper sanitation.

“Our main concern at this stage is the spread of disease,” continued Mr. Lelei. “We are doing everything we can to get people clean water and proper sanitation which is key to keeping them healthy. But time is really of the essence.”

Aid agencies have appealed for US$166 million immediately to meet the most urgent needs of people struck by the current crisis (LINK to press release). The money will go towards emergency healthcare, food, water, sanitation, and shelter for displaced communities, and will cover the staff and aid supplies needed to manage camps and transport relief supplies.

“Our commitment is clear,” says Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer. “We are here to stay, protect and deliver. I hope that donors will also show their solidarity by contributing generously to our work, so we can achieve those goals together.”

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