NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 40 percent of South Sudan’s population need emergency assistance such as food or water, the U.N. said, but ongoing battles mean only a minority are within reach.
The conflict in the world's youngest country erupted late last year between troops backing President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to his sacked vice president Riek Machar. Thousands of civilians have been killed in the violence in the oil-producing nation.
Although the warring parties agreed to a cessation of hostilities on Jan. 23, fighting has continued in parts of South Sudan, spurring a mass exodus of civilians in search of safety.
“Aid agencies estimate that 4.9 million people… need some form of emergency assistance,” the U.N. said. “This includes people internally displaced, other communities affected by violence and lack of basic services, and refugees from neighbouring countries.”
Aid has reached 758,400 people so far, including 234,000 refugees sheltering in South Sudan.
Since violence broke out in December, 908,000 people have been displaced, including 705,800 people within South Sudan and 202,500 into neighbouring countries.
VIOLENCE AGAINST AID WORKERS
Fighting, attacks on humanitarian workers and the looting of their assets are hindering aid delivery.
“With regard to access to people in need, the constraints most often reported by partners in February were violence against aid personnel and assets and restrictions on movement,” the U.N. said.
“The number of incidents in February (29) dropped compared to January (69), but this is thought to be due to underreporting rather than a change in the operating environment.”
In Upper Nile State to the north of Malakal, civilians have been subjected to horrendous attacks.
Some 1,250 people are sheltering in a U.N. base in Melut, about 200 km north-east of Malakal.
“Clashes were reportedly moving north, with tension mounting in Melut and Dethoma - areas where many displaced people have sought shelter in recent weeks,” the U.N. said.
Aid agencies and the U.N. mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) are “making contingency plans for many more arriving if fighting moves closer to the area.”
Thousands of people are on the move across the country, seeking safety from the violence.
Each day, several hundred people are crossing from Upper Nile State into Ethiopia, which is already hosting 60,000 South Sudanese refugees.
“Many of the people displaced to this area are reportedly in poor health,” the U.N. said.
The exodus from Jonglei state to Awerial county in Lakes state “due to ongoing tension” also continues.
“Partners reported around 1,000 new arrivals per day,” the U.N. said.
The U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said there will be a “catastrophe” unless there is a real ceasefire in March, April and May to enable people to plant crops.