First-hand account: violence in South Sudan

In the field article written on the 24 Jan 2014

SouthSudan

Not yet three years old and only beginning to know what peace feels like, the world’s newest country, South Sudan, is again in the throes of extreme violence. Since fighting broke out in the capital, Juba, on the 15 December 2013close to 10,000 people have been killed and almost 400,000 others have fled their homes.

Oxfam is working with the UN and other agencies to help families get food, clean water, and sanitation facilities. But the needs of displaced people are increasingly dire.

Oxfam’s Grace Cahill, a press officer, arrived in Juba on Saturday and spent the following two days in Awerial camp, about a four-hour drive from the city. Along the lush shore of the Nile River, the camp is now sheltering about 75,000 people. Across the river is the town of Bor, where fighting between conflicting parties has been going on since mid-December.

Here is Cahill’s account of what she saw:

“While I was in Awerial you could hear heaving shelling and aerial bombing from the Bor side. Yesterday half the camp looked up to see an armed helicopter pass down along the river and turn towards Bor, a series of bombs was heard two minutes later. Quite obviously people are scared for their relatives who remain and worry about what they’ve to go back to, although it seems at the moment that there are safe on the Awerial side of the river.

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Sun sets over the scattered settlement in Awerial county where around 80,000 displaced people are living. Picture: www.geoffpugh.com

“Private boats are charging displaced people to cross the Nile, from anywhere between 100 and 200 SSP per person ($30-$60) and that’s including children older than little toddlers. I met one family who had sold their entire stock of cattle (around 400 heads) to make sure the 100 members of their extended family could make it over the river. The crossing is dangerous. It can take all day. The boats are overcrowded so there’s great risk of capsizing, and there are crocodiles in the water. I heard of around 10 people who had died on the crossing: several drowned, a child was crushed by luggage and a man was hit by a stray shell or bomb.

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Hundreds of people arrive daily to Awerial having fled from the conflict in and around the town Bor. People travel through the night on barges with the little they could grab from home. Picture: www.geoffpugh.com

“Once on the other side, people must wade through the heavy mud and hopefully find some shade to camp under. It’s hot, around 37 degrees in the day, and cool at night. Many people have only mats on the ground and no shelter. People are spread out all the way down the river between bushes and trees. This is not a “camp” setting, the host community has by and large welcomed people but the infrastructure of this small hamlet is overwhelmed. There’s an urgent need for sanitation. People are openly defecating. Oxfam has identified a need for 2,000 latrines to be dug for a population of around 80,000 people.”

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Families fleeing fighting in and around the town of Bor are seeking refuge under the shade of any available tree on the other side of the river Nile from their home. Picture: www.geoffpugh.com

Oxfam is calling for a swift and peaceful resolution to the conflict, with the protection of human rights at the core of the settlement.