The UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) South Sudan country director, Chris Nikoi, said in a statement: “We believe these people need food now and cannot wait for much longer after hiding in the bush for weeks. We need more food supplies in the country and more helicopters to take this food to those who most need it.”
More than 100,000 people are out of reach of humanitarian support after violence that broke out this month between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities, and after clashes between the government and a rebel movement led by David Yau Yau. Over the past six months, about120,000 people have fled to the bush amid heightened insecurity.
Rains and a lack of roads or useable airstrips have made it difficult to reach those most in need.
The humanitarian co-ordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said (pdf): “The delivery of food aid poses extra logistical challenges as trucks are unable to move along waterlogged roads, and we do not have enough helicopters to fly sufficient food to the swamp-like areas.”
WFP said it was providing food assistance to the displaced in areas it could access, but required $20m (£13m) to purchase food and hire helicopters for an operation to feed 60,000 people until December. Humanitarian agencies in South Sudan face a funding shortfall of $472m.
Extreme coping strategies
Murle communities have resorted to extreme coping strategies, with some eating wild fruits and leaves. After cattle raids, thought to be in the tens of thousands, the population is slaughtering female cattle for meat, even if this means they cannot replenish stocks.
Women who have been hiding in the bush with children for days or weeks have walked into towns to collect food, but those IRIN spoke to said they would return to the swamps, where they have no shelter, healthcare or clean water, as they feared security forces more than disease or hunger.
InterAction, an alliance of US-based NGOs, said (pdf): “Even prior to the start of armed conflict, the UN and the Famine Early Warning System Network (Fewsnet) reported [Jonglei’s] Pibor county was experiencing chronic levels of food insecurity and predicted that 39,000 people would be severely food insecure in early 2013, with food insecurity potentially reaching emergency thresholds by July-August.”
According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs(Ocha) (pdf), in 2012, “pre-harvest malnutrition rates between January and July were already approaching emergency thresholds”, while as of March 2013, 12% of Jonglei’s population was severely food insecure and 24% moderately insecure.
Access to people in need
On 14 July, after protracted negotiations with state and non-state armed groups, charities were allowed access (pdf) to about 25,000 people in parts of the state.
Vincent Lelei, head of Ocha in South Sudan, said aid agencies had accessed only “a very, very small part [of Pibor county] both for logistical and security reasons”, although thousands had been suffering for six months.
“Going forward into the lean season, it is very likely that they will get into difficulty,” he said, adding that flying in food would be more difficult than bringing in other commodities such as plastic sheeting, water purification tablets and medicines, as limited air assets meant the UN had “very limited weight to carry”.
Lelei said some of the populations they had accessed showed signs of serious illness, while Lanzer noted that some children showed signs of measles, a potentially fatal disease in such conditions.
Some of those affected do not want to come in to towns to seek help. The head of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team in Pibor, John Tzanos, said: “They are afraid to seek medical care in towns, so it is essential for us to intervene where they are so that all those in need can access treatment.”
MSF is running the only healthcare facility in Gumuruk village after its hospital in Pibor was destroyed during clashes in May.