Escalating conflict in South Sudan’s Equatoria regions has led to the killing of civilians, forced thousands of people to flee and disrupted planting for farmers at a time when 60 per cent of the population is suffering from acute food insecurity. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is calling on all parties to the conflict to urgently resolve tensions and avoid accelerating the risk of famine.
“Civilians have been killed and displaced due to fresh violence over the last month, exacerbating a very real famine threat as farmers and families are forced to abandon their homes. All parties should end the violence and allow unfettered access to aid organisations, otherwise we risk witnessing a humanitarian crisis not seen in the country for years,” said Mark Millar, Policy Analyst for NRC in South Sudan.
Planting in Central Equatoria, an agriculturally rich area considered the ´bread basket´ of the country, has almost ground to a halt as farmers are forced to flee and seek safety elsewhere. Truck drivers from neighbouring countries are unable to deliver supplies and humanitarians are unable to deliver aid and reach people in need on some roads due to fighting.
Access constraints are preventing humanitarians from fully assessing the needs and recording data. So far, at least 1,500 people have sought shelter in the town of Yei. However, many more remain trapped in the bush and thousands are believed to have fled across the border into Uganda.
Meanwhile, conflict has spread to the neighbouring state of Eastern Equatoria. In recent weeks, humanitarians working there have faced incidents of intimidation, violence and robbery. Six incidents of robbery and attempted robbery were recorded against vehicles or premises belonging to the United Nations and humanitarian organisations this month alone.
Despite glimmers of hope following the signing of a peace agreement in 2018, conflict, violence and displacement are again becoming a day-to-day reality for the population of South Sudan. Increased reports of civilian killings are of grave concern.
“We remind those party to recent peace agreements of their commitments to a peaceful political process and their responsibility to uphold international humanitarian law,” Millar said. “We also call upon the UN Mission in South Sudan to investigate and report ongoing attacks against civilians, provide physical protection to civilians threatened by violence where possible, and uphold its mandated commitment to create conditions for safe humanitarian delivery.”
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Facts and Figures:
- In mid-March, the Government of South Sudan began a series of security operations against the rebel group the National Salvation Front (NAS) in the southern part of Central Equatoria State. That violence occurred despite an ongoing political process aimed at peacefully resolving the conflict.
- An increased security presence along the critical Juba/Nimule road has improved supplies to the capital. However, the road between Juba and Yei, at the heart of the current conflict, remains impassable because of the violence.
- At the end of March, there were a series of violent incidents in Eastern Equatoria, related to local communal rivalries. These have taken place at the same time as a series of robberies, including against UN and NGO personnel and property, raising levels of general insecurity across the state.
- Around 235,000 people are currently displaced in Central Equatoria and the number looks set to increase as conflict continues. Around 50,000 people are displaced in Eastern Equatoria.
- As of March 2021, around 5.8 million people (60 per cent) in South Sudan are suffering from acute food insecurity, while 1.6 million are displaced.
- Recent Government advice to avoid certain roads across the Equatorian region suggests that current levels of violence may escalate in the forthcoming week as the Government scales up its security activities to contain violence in both states.
- High levels of food insecurity and recurring violence continues to affect vulnerable people living elsewhere in the country. Since January, sub-national violence in the Greater Tonj area displaced an estimated 50,000 people to Gogrial East, Tonj South and Tonj North in Warrap, and to Wau in Western Bahr el Ghazal.
- The Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Unity transitioned into a displacement camp in March; transition of the last PoC site in Malakal remains pending. Flooding in Akobo County, Jonglei, affected some 30,000 people, many of whom already face high levels of food insecurity. A high risk of more catastrophic flooding is a concern this year.
- Physical access challenges continued to impact the delivery of aid, with an urgent need to rehabilitate roads and dykes in Jonglei before the rains start.
- Since April last year, 10,168 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in South Sudan.