News / Africa

UN to Assist Victims of Ethnic Violence in South Sudan

A handout picture released by the UN on January 5, 2012 shows internally displaced persons resting in Pibor, Jonglei state after fleeing the surrounding areas following a wave of bloody ethnic violence.
A handout picture released by the UN on January 5, 2012 shows internally displaced persons resting in Pibor, Jonglei state after fleeing the surrounding areas following a wave of bloody ethnic violence.
Lisa Schlein

The United Nations is launching a massive humanitarian operation in South Sudan's Jonglei state to assist tens of thousands of victims of recent ethnic violence.  Unconfirmed reports say hundreds, if not thousands, of people were killed during an explosion of violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes last week.  

A United Nations assessment of Pibor and three other South Sudanese towns affected by last week’s inter-ethnic clashes finds an estimated 50,000 displaced people in urgent need of assistance.  

A spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Elisabeth Byrs, says the needs are significant.  She says all U.N. agencies, including the World Food Program, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.N. Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, are on board and are deploying staff and relief items to the affected area.

“The food distribution has started already.  They will increase and continue in the coming days.  All the U.N. agency clusters, I mean by sector -  the health sector, the water and sanitation sector, food sector, shelter sector - now are finalizing a major, rapid response plan, emergency response plan, to address this situation,” Byers said.  

On Thursday, the World Food Program began distributing food to some 2,000 displaced people, mainly women and children, in Boma in the southeastern part of Pibor County.  WFP says it plans to give food rations to another 7,000 people in Pibor town in the coming days.

Last week, about 6,000 young armed men from the Lou Nuer tribe went on a violent rampage in the remote town of Pibor, home to the rival Murle people.  They embarked on their killing spree vowing to exterminate the Murle, whom they accuse of abducting their women and children and raiding their cattle.

The Lou Nuer attackers have inflicted a great deal of damage and destruction.  They have entirely razed one village, burnt many houses to the ground and looted and destroyed a clinic run by the non-governmental organization Doctors without Borders, leaving the local communities stripped of vital medical care.

A UNICEF spokeswoman, Marixie Mercado, says the impact of these attacks on children is devastating.  She says five injured children have been evacuated to the South Sudanese capital of Juba.  One died shortly after arrival.  She says there are reports of nine children having been abducted and confirmed reports of 45 unaccompanied minors.

“Unaccompanied children are extraordinarily vulnerable to abuse and to abduction.  So, the priority for UNICEF and all partners working in protection is to reunify them as quickly as possible with their families… Tens of thousands of civilians, mainly women and children, are still displaced and seeking cover in the dense bush without food or clean water.  Water, sanitation and hygiene are particularly urgent because many of the water sources… were damaged.  WASH (water supply, sanitation and hygiene) supplies are en route and we have nutrition and emergency education supplies also pre-positioned,” Mercado said.  

The United Nations has appealed for $763 million for humanitarian operations in South Sudan this year.  So far, 8 percent of the appeal has been covered.  U.N. agencies are urging donors to contribute more as soon as possible.

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