South Sudan: major eruption of violence is feared in Jonglei State

 ICRC staff treating a child for gunshot injuries, South Sudan, 2019 ICRC staff treating a child for gunshot injuries, South Sudan, 2019 ICRC/News Room

18 June 2020

As COVID-19 limits life-saving operations, the ICRC warns many lives could be lost if fighting erupts again in conflict-torn Jonglei State

On Thursday, June 18, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a press release from its country offices in Juba, South Sudan. The head of ICRC’s team in Bor, Jonglei State, shared his fears about the alarming rumors of a third major eruption of violence threatening the area. Across Jonglei State, fierce clashes have been reported as armed men appear to be rallying for a new wave of attacks. Meanwhile, COVID-19 prevention measures have obliged the ICRC to reduce by 30% the number of available hospital beds. Health facilities are full, travel restrictions prevent reinforcements to step in, while medical teams in place are working overtime. The pandemic is severely limiting the ICRC capacity to provide surgical care for gunshot injuries: if fighting is to erupt as violently as earlier this year, the death toll could be even higher.

Jonglei State, located in the eastern part of South Sudan, has already experienced two major eruptions of intercommunal violence this year. As reported by the United Nations (UN), fighting first broke out in mid-February, forcing 8,000 people to seek shelter near the United Nations peacekeeping base in Pibor. In May 2020, a new cycle of violence burst across Jonglei: as reported by government authorities, at least 300 people were injured and 287 killed, including three aid workers. Since December 2019, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has witnessed a dramatic escalation of violent clashes between the Lou Nuer, Dinka and Murle communities. A few months before, devastating floods had led to the loss of thousands of cattle, which constitute a major source of livelihood for South Sudanese people. Worsening food insecurity further inflamed existing intercommunal tensions over land ownership and shrinking economic resources.

Nevertheless, as pointed out by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, David Shearer, “much of the lawlessness and seizing of resources by armed groups stems from an absence of authority”, since state governors and local officials are yet to be appointed. Eventually, on June 18, the unity government formed in February 2020 reached an agreement on the highly controversial allocation of regional states. The governors’ appointment is expected to strengthen state authority, halting the escalation of intercommunal violence, while supporting the response to COVID-19.


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Author: Ester Zangrandi

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