Thousands Are Cut Off From Aid in South Sudan

By Caelin Briggs

Today, Marcy Hersh and I are en route to South Sudan, where we will spend the next three weeks assessing the conditions for displaced people in two of the harshest and most isolated areas of the country. In Jonglei and Unity states, an estimated 180,000 displaced persons are taking shelter in camps, with host families, and hiding in the bush, often with little to no support from the UN or humanitarian agencies.

After South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, the international community had high hopes that the humanitarian crises which plagued the region would begin to subside. While the relationship between the two countries remained tense in the early days, cross-border violence was largely avoided and tens of thousands of South Sudanese returned from the north.

Unfortunately, despite these positive indicators, displacement did not recede – indeed, in many areas it began to escalate. Bombings by the Sudanese Armed Forces in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states caused many people to flee into South Sudan in search of safety. Violence continued in Jonglei, one of the eastern states of South Sudan, with cattle raids killing and displacing large numbers of civilians.

In the nearly two years since South Sudan’s independence, these humanitarian crises have only gotten worse. The numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons continue to grow, and the longer people spend away from their homes the more conditions deteriorate.

Yida camp in South Sudan’s Unity State now shelters more than 70,000 refugees from South Kordofan, and it is completely cut off by land during the rainy season. The roads fill with water and mud, turning the camp into a virtual island for up to six months. Last year, an attack on a UN helicopter made aid deliveries even more difficult, aggravating an already precarious food security situation.

In Jonglei, insecurity has prevented many donors and humanitarian agencies from supporting the displaced population. There is widespread recognition that the needs in Jonglei are significant, but the main UN agencies and NGOs have been reluctant to engage, citing limited and unpredictable access to the area. The result is that displaced people in many parts of Jonglei are struggling to survive without even basic assistance like food, water, and shelter.

Over the coming three weeks, RI will be assessing needs in Unity and Jonglei states, and we will be looking at ways to better support displaced populations. In addition to general humanitarian and protection issues, Marcy will examine the specific needs of women and girls and will assess the effectiveness of the UN’s new Women’s Protection Advisors. For more information about our trip, follow us on Twitter and watch the RI Blog for updates.