An emergency helicopter airlift is bringing supplies to more than 3,500 displaced people in South Sudan’s Jonglei State. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is taking the action after fighting earlier this month triggered by cattle raids.
Government officials said clashes between the Murle and Lou Nuer left 600 people dead. More than 200 children were abducted, nearly 8,000 houses were burned and about 250,000 left homeless.
“We are faced with the very intimidating logistics of the area,” said IOM spokesman Gerard Waite in Juba, “but we are doing what we can…to fly in the first response, particularly because it’s the rainy season. So we want to try to cover as quickly as we possibly can the shelter and mosquito net needs.”
The airlift is being operated by helicopters of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in coordination with Save the Children and Polish Humanitarian Action. The rains have prevented supplies from being brought in by truck.
“East of the River Nile,” said Waite, “is a flood plain and the types of soils that are there saturate extremely quickly as soon at the rains appear. Even though it has not been a year of extraordinary heavy rains, the area is inaccessible at the moment, even by 4X4 vehicle.”
“The majority of the population is displaced out of the main towns in the area and living in the bush. We are already trying to keep up on a sort of moment by moment, just to quantify and to locate the populations. We’re trying to deal with the populations as we discover them,” he said.
Besides the recent violence, militia attacks have been a problem in the past. There are also still landmines in the area from the long civil war between the north and south Sudan that officially ended in 2005.
“Clearly we know the area has long been an area with significant cattle raiding problems,” Waite said, “The fighting between militias in other areas is impacting the severity of these attacks, that are tribally based, by virtue of the flow of arms into the area.”
The IOM said more airlifts are planned in the coming days to help the displaced.