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People Frightened to Return to Homes in South Sudan

  • Andrew Green

Staff open the doors of the morgue at the teaching hospital to add another body to the 24 already there, 20 of whom were killed from violence according to the staff, in Malakal, Upper Nile State, in South Sudan, Jan. 21, 2014
A top U.N. official has warned the humanitarian situation in South Sudan may continue to deteriorate, as people are too frightened to move back to their homes. Aid workers there say they expect the number of people displaced by the South Sudan conflict to keep rising, increasing the risk of disease.

Yusuf Anur sleeps in the open at the Malakal Teaching Hospital for more than two weeks. He says he is lucky to get one meal a day.

“Right now, we are living here. We are suffering inside Malakal Teaching Hospital,” he said.

And though Anur says he is suffering because of the shortages of food and clean water, he has no plans to leave the hospital. He says he does not believe the fighting has really ended.

The U.N. reports more than 64,000 people in Malakal County were displaced in two waves of fighting in the area.

The local U.N. base is hosting more than 26,000 people. Churches and mosques have also been converted into temporary shelters.

Government forces regained control of the town last week. But the head of the International Organization for Migration office, Donavan Naidoo, says as sporadic gunfire continues to be reported across the town, he expects more people to arrive.

“They do not feel safe at night," said Naidoo. "They feel that UNMISS will be providing the best security for them.”

U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Chief Valerie Amos visited Malakal yesterday on a three-day trip to South Sudan to evaluate the impact of the violence. She says many people told her they do not feel safe even after the ceasefire was signed between the government and anti-government forces late last week.

“There’s a desperate need here for reconciliation efforts, for people to be guaranteed of their safety and security," said Amos. "There’s a potential health hazard in these informal camps that have now sprung up. Way too many people, not enough water. Not enough food.”

Naidoo says one of their biggest concerns is the spread of waterborne diseases, including cholera and hepatitis E.

“At the moment, with the space issue… we don’t have the adequate space to build further sanitation facilities," said Naidoo. "And that creates a health concern, not only for the IDPs, but for the base itself.”

Naidoo says they are doing what they can, including providing clean drinking water and distributing the food that is available, but there is not enough to go around.

State Information Minister Philip Jiben Ogal says the government does not have the resources to help right now. He says they are grateful for the assistance, but are asking the United Nations to do more.

“You see the situation in the hospital, lacking of the drugs," said Ogal. "People, they are suffering, because foods are not available.”

Sixteen-year-old Sebit John Jok, who is camping on the grounds of St. Joseph’s cathedral near the center of town, says life at the church is quiet miserable, but he still does not feel comfortable leaving.

He says no one feels safe enough even to go out and bury the bodies of the people who were killed in the fighting.

“Maybe, if they pick up all the dead people in there, I will go there to my house," said Jok. "Because my staying there in the house there, me alone. All the neighbors, they’re gone. There is nobody in the house there.”

The United Nations says the fighting in South Sudan has displaced nearly 600,000 people from their homes since mid-December.

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