WASHINGTON — The humanitarian situation in a rural area of eastern South Sudan appears to be worsening after a hosptial run by an international medical group was heavily damaged in violence last week.
Residents are fleeing Pibor town, which is in Jonglei state, near the border with Ethiopia, and some NGOs are evacuating staff from the area.
The local hospital, which was run by the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), has suspended its operations.
Speaking from Brussels, the MSF coordinator of Operations for South Sudan Richard Veerman said that stepped-up tensions caused the group to begin evacuating staff three weeks ago.
“We’ve been able to have a look the day before yesterday and found out that not only are we missing our food stocks and beds, but more worrying has been the deliberate attempt to make our facility inoperable,” he said.
“Electric cables were cut, drugs were smashed on the floor and stamped, offices were [damaged], air conditioning of our pharmacy was ripped off the wall and stomped on the floor… so this makes it very difficult for us to get back to operations."
Now that the hospital is inoperable, Veerman said his biggest concern is the health and safety of residents, who already had a tough time obtaining medical services before this latest incident.
“Normally,” he said, “we talk about a population of roughly 100,000 who have no access to healthcare. We were the only place that was providing healthcare in the larger area around Pibor. These people have no access to healthcare at the moment.”
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said in Juba on Tuesday that it is concerned about reports of incidents carried out by what it calls “allegedly defected and ill-disciplined members of security forces.” It’s also concerned about statements coming from David Yau Yau’s militia telling civilians to leave Pibor and Kapoeta, in Eastern Equatoria state.
Ding Akol, the minister of local government in Jonglei state, was serving as the acting governor when the hospital was looted. He said the government is investigating who is behind the violence.
“You know what happened in Pibor is that there was a rumor circulating among the civil population in Pibor town that Yau Yau is going to attack Pibor. So he created a commotion in town, so the civilians, most of them left the town, fearing that the town will be attacked by the Yau Yau,” he said. “And in that, some few elements from the other organized forces – police, prison, they left. And they are the ones we suspect broke into the MSF compound.”
PLAN International is a children’s rights NGO that works in the area. Its South Sudan country director, Gyan Adhikari, said they are concerned about the security situation in Pibor, especially in light of the looting of the MSF hospital, and has been withdrawing its non-essential staff from the area over the last few days.
He said he doesn’t know when they will be able to return.
“It depends upon the government’s actions, you know. How far, how fast the government takes action and returns the peace, the security over there,” he said. “So we can go as soon as possible because we are ready. I can’t predict the date but I am hoping two to three weeks’ time, it will get better. But that’s my prediction. It might work, it might not work.”
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated on Thursday that the UN Mission in South Sudan has a “full-time” presence in Pibor and that UNMISS peacekeepers have clear instructions to assist in protecting the civilian population there.