JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN — Humanitarian aid groups have begun returning to remote areas in Jonglei state where tens of thousands of people are reported to be in need of emergency assistance following months of violence, a top relief official in South Sudan said Friday.
“The United Nations and its partners have been able to gain some access to the more remote areas in which people have been staying for the past couple of months because of the hostilities that have been taking place there,” said the United Nations’ top relief official in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer.
“There’s been some steady, albeit slow, improvements over the past few weeks,” Lanzer said of the restive state, where intercommunal fighting between the Lou Nuer and Murle has pushed tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, and U.N. agencies and humanitarian aid groups have pulled out of towns to escape fighting between government forces and rebels led by David Yau Yau.
“I think we’re all gunning to make sure this slow progress is sustained and we’ll do our best to build on that," said Lanzer.
The United Nations has approved $6 million in aid for Jonglei on top of $5 million allocated in June. The funds will be used to expand food relief efforts, with some of the money earmarked for items including blankets and plastic sheeting to construct shelters, Lanzer said, adding that more money would be needed.
"The latest contribution from the central emergency response fund of $6 million is very, very useful. We’re going to need more money from the donor community,” he said.
Jonglei state has been wracked by violence for months. Civilians, along with U.N. agencies and humanitarian aid groups, fled the town of Boma in Jonglei in May to escape fighting between government forces and Yau Yau's rebels.
Last month, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that about 40,000 inhabitants have been displaced in Pibor county -- the heart of Yau Yau's insurrection.
All six major population centers in Pibor have been abandoned, at least 8,500 Murle are estimated to have fled to neighboring countries and around 7,000 to Juba, OCHA said.
Lanzer said the South Sudanese army prevented aid organizations from accessing remote areas in the state in May and June because of the clashes with Yau Yau’s rebel group.
The army has itself been accused of serious abuses against civilians in Jonglei state, but denies the charges.