South Sudan: thousands displaced as fighting escalates

16-05-2012 Operational Update

Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC has stepped up its efforts to respond to mounting humanitarian needs in South Sudan. In early April, needs increased further when hostilities erupted along the border with Sudan. The ICRC is striving to help people affected by armed violence in South Sudan.

"Many people left their homes in a hurry because of the violence, often leaving everything behind and finding some sort of shelter in makeshift camps," said Melker Mabeck, the ICRC's head of delegation in South Sudan.

"Hospitals, particularly in Bentiu in Unity state, saw an influx of wounded patients and have struggled to cope," he added. On several occasions, the ICRC donated surgical consumables, drugs and other essential items to Bentiu Civil Hospital and Bentiu Military Hospital. In neighbouring Upper Nile state, where the ICRC is providing support for Malakal Teaching Hospital, ICRC doctors performed over 80 operations on patients in April. Most were weapon-related injuries.

Since hostilities intensified just over a month ago, the ICRC has focused on visiting conflict-related detainees including prisoners of war, providing emergency relief to the newly displaced and helping hospitals treat the wounded. It has also sought to ensure that communities affected by fighting have access to safe water.

ICRC maintains a strong presence in northern regions of South Sudan where communities are suffering from the violence. "A key task is to remind parties to the conflict of their obligation to respect civilians, the wounded and prisoners," said Mr Mabeck.

Because the South Sudan Red Cross Society is an essential partner in many ICRC activities, one of the ICRC's main priorities is to enhance the Red Cross's ability to respond to emergencies.

The following is an update on ICRC activities in South Sudan since the beginning of April.

Visiting detainees

The ICRC visits conflict-related detainees on an ongoing basis to monitor the conditions in which they are being held and to ensure that they are properly treated. Detainees are registered by the ICRC in order to keep track of their whereabouts if they are transferred to other detention centres, to prevent disappearance and to inform the families of their fate. Where necessary, the ICRC provides detainees with hygiene items and other essentials.

In late April, the ICRC facilitated the repatriation of 13 Sudanese prisoners of war to Khartoum after their release by the South Sudanese authorities. When they were still in detention, the 13 men were provided by the ICRC with clothing, mosquito nets and other items.

Restoring contact between family members

Many refugees have moved to camps in Upper Nile and Unity states, close to the border with Sudan, where they have lost contact with their families. Since early April, the ICRC has helped hundreds of family members separated by conflict get back in touch with one another by giving them the opportunity to make phone calls or send written messages.

Assisting conflict-affected people

The ICRC works closely with the South Sudan Red Cross to ensure that aid reaches people suffering from armed conflict, especially in extremely remote areas where few other humanitarian organizations are present.

Approximately 20,000 people newly displaced by recent fighting to the Aweil North area, Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, were given hygiene items, kitchen sets, mosquito nets, clothes, tarpaulins and other essentials. They were also given one-week food rations to help them get through the emergency.

The ICRC distributed in early April seed, agricultural tools and food distributions to nearly 25,000 people, including over 15,000 people around Agok, a town in the southern part of the disputed Abyei area. This aid, provided in advance of the planting season, should ensure adequate harvests in August and restore a degree of self-sufficiency to families affected by conflict.

Animal welfare is a vital concern for thousands of cattle keepers and herders who rely on their animals as their main source of income. Jointly with the Ministry of Animal Resources and Fisheries, the ICRC is currently carrying out a vaccination campaign to reduce animal mortality in Warrap state. About 100,000 head of cattle will have been vaccinated by the time the current campaign draws to a close at the end of May.

Access to water

Refugees in Jamam refugee camp, Upper Nile state, are facing critical water shortages. Water is currently being trucked into the camp, but this will no longer be an option once the rainy season turns roads to mud. The rains could also bring with them deadly water-borne diseases, especially if people drink surface water directly. The ICRC has just completed laying a seven-kilometre underground pipeline to channel water from the source straight into water points in the refugee camp, ensuring that access to safe water is maintained. Four rainwater harvest tanks have also been installed in the camp.

In Pariang county, Unity state, the ICRC has launched a three-year rural water project to repair existing hand pumps and build solar-powered water points in three key locations. Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC water specialists have repaired 15 hand pumps.

The ICRC is also running an urban water project in Bentiu and Rubkona towns (Unity state). Two motor pumps were installed in Rubkona water treatment plant in April, following on from a water treatment workshop held recently for local water technicians and engineers from Unity and Upper Nile states.

Supporting health-care and physical-rehabilitation services

In early April, the ICRC sent an emergency surgical team to Bentiu Civil Hospital to perform essential surgery on nine persons wounded during clashes. Members of the team are normally based in Malakal Teaching Hospital, where in April they performed over 80 operations mainly on patients with weapon-related injuries. The team remains on standby, ready to help health-care facilities cope with any influx of wounded patients.

On several occasions, the ICRC has donated surgical consumables, including wound-dressing materials, set splints and intravenous fluids, as well as drugs and other essential items to Bentiu Civil Hospital and Bentiu Military Hospital to help them cope with casualties.

The Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre in Juba, co-run by the ICRC and the South Sudanese government, provides specialist care for physically disabled people. In April, the centre provided services to nearly 200 people, half of whom were amputees. Prosthetic limbs and bespoke wheelchairs are manufactured and delivered at the centre, which also provides patients with crutches and sticks. Over 50 patients received physiotherapy services.

Promoting international humanitarian law

The ICRC held a seminar on international humanitarian law (IHL) in mid-April, jointly with the South Sudan Red Cross and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. The seminar provided a forum for senior government officials and members of humanitarian and civil society organizations to discuss the changing nature of conflict and the continuing relevance of the Geneva Conventions and other IHL treaties for the protection of civilians.

South Sudan is in the process of acceding to the Geneva Conventions, with a bill currently going through the National Legislative Assembly. The ICRC has provided technical support to the government for the accession process and will remain a key partner in helping implement the new act.

Working in partnership with the South Sudan Red Cross

The South Sudan Red Cross was legally recognized by the South Sudanese government in March 2012, guaranteeing its status as an independent organization with a key role as an auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field.

The ICRC is providing wide-ranging support to the organization, established following South Sudan's declaration of independence on 9 July 2011, as it develops and moves towards full recognition as a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Since early April, assemblies have been held in six of the country's 10 Red Cross branches. These are designed to set up branch governing bodies in the run-up to the South Sudan Red Cross's first-ever national assembly, due to be held later this year. At the same time, the South Sudan Red Cross is actively increasing its membership base in an effort to ensure it is truly representative of the new country. The ICRC, together with other partners within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, is also working to help the South Sudan Red Cross develop its emergency response strategy.

For further information, please contact:
Ewan Watson, ICRC Juba, tel: +211 912 178 946
Jean-Yves Clémenzo, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17