If you've read other entries to my blog you'll be aware that I was meant to be working in Jonglei State, but when I came out to South Sudan my team had been evacuated to Juba because of a pretty nasty inter-tribal attack by the Murle tribe on Uror County, traditionally Lou Nuer territory. The team went back to Jonglei State in January and I am now permanently based in Juba (for reasons not interesting enough to be explained here). During this attack approximately 600 people died and 8000 homes burnt, as well as injuries and child abductions.
|Map of South Sudan, its states and its counties|
In December the tribes from Uror County (Lou Nuer) decided to retaliate; an estimated 6000 young men marched into Pibor County (also in Jonglei State) and wreaked havoc on the (Murle) populations there, killing and burning as they went. The government and UNMISS intervened and sent the 6000 youths back to their homes, after which the Murle retaliated again in a number of smaller attacks on Lou Nuer and Dinka communities.
Since this time, and perhaps also due to international pressure, the government decided to carry out a voluntary disarmament campaign. The government gave the communities until the end of April to hand over all their weapons, otherwise 'non-lethal' force would be used. Now April is over, 'non-lethal' force is being used on the people in Jonglei State, including women and elderly.
The South Sudanese army, the SPLA, has been in charge of disarmament and has met some resistance from a particular Nuer spiritual leader and the "Nuer White Army". These citizens argue that disarmament isn't fair unless it is carried out everywhere, all at once. A Dinka staff member, whom I work with, says that he disagrees with the disarmament if his tribe is disarmed first. Perhaps he is remembering the 1991 massacre of Dinka people in Bor, carried out by a rebel army led by Riek Machar (the current Vice President). I can't blame him for his concern; 2000 people were indiscriminately slaughtered in Bor in 1991, thousands more injured, up to 100,000 people displaced and an estimated 25,000 people died following the event due to famine after losing their homes and livelihoods. The scale of what happened in 1991 was epic, but a similar thing is happening now.
Reports from cattle camps, nutrition surveys and food security surveys show high levels of malnutrition and food insecurity amongst those currently displaced by conflict all over Jonglei State. When villages are raided, crops are burnt, grain is left behind and cattle are stolen. The loss of these livelihood assets is compounded by the poor rain that was received in 2011 which weakened cattle and harvests. In a couple of months, the rains will start again and roads will no longer be passable to get to those in need. Many agencies are so overwhelmed by the recent emergency that it is already becoming too late to procure seeds for this coming rainy season, since planting must start this month or the next.
I spoke to one of our nutrition project officers in Uror County who came to Juba for a short visit, she told me that the levels of malnutrition are evident, "almost everyone qualifies for our programme, a mother will come to us and it won't be just one child who is malnourished, it's all of them".
In the meantime, South Sudan's attention is drawn to the conflict on the border to Sudan. While this happens, guns are re-entering Jonglei State through Ethiopia, and there is more circulation of weapons within South Sudan, especially in the states that border the North. As this happens, Riek Machar tours the states if South Sudan to promote peace and apologise for the Bor massacre.
Disasters happen every year in parts of South Sudan and its easy to see how the international community lose interest; "another famine in Jonglei, that's happened before", "poor leadership, we've seen it", "financial crisis caused by asset mismanagement, well it's all their own fault, really". But when you find yourself living here, working with it and hearing about, with the knowledge that you're partly responsible for assisting those affected, it can be fairly overwhelming.
|A South Sudanese women celebrating the independence of South Sudan from Sudan, July 2011|