Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas member based in the US) is poised to respond to the declared emergency in Jonglei State in South Sudan, where an estimated 50,000 people have been displaced since late December due to ethnic conflict between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes that has claimed an estimated 1,000 lives in the past six months.
“The current situation remains very fluid, with many families having fled their homes for other towns further away from the conflict,” says CRS South Sudan head of programming, Isaac Boyd. “Others have dispersed into the countryside, making it difficult to determine how many people are in need of immediate assistance.
“Regardless of the exact number, United Nations (UN) and government reports from Jonglei indicate that many villages have been burnt to the ground, and affected families face the prospect of returning home to absolutely nothing,” Boyd says. “This includes the loss of livestock, which to the pastoralist communities prevalent in Jonglei means the loss of both their savings and their means of survival.”
The most immediate needs are food, shelter, water, and medical supplies and services. In coordination with the government, the UN, and other humanitarian actors, CRS will provide relief materials to affected populations and explore the possibility of extending other kinds of support, such as improved access to water, sanitation facilities and shelter.
The troubled state of Jonglei has a long history of ethnic tensions, cattle raiding, kidnappings and sometimes violent competition for scarce resources.The most recent attacks were led by the self-proclaimed Nuer White Army, a group of as many as 6,000 armed youth from the Lou Nuer ethnic group. Spokespersons of the armed group stated that their intention was to reclaim stolen cattle and 180 kidnapped children that they say raiders from a neighboring ethnic group, the Murle, had taken from their communities.
With the support of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeeping force, the South Sudanese government has secured Pibor and is now working with the UN and humanitarian aid agencies to get relief materials to the most affected areas.
CRS has been actively engaged with Church partners, government officials, and community leaders on a comprehensive peacebuilding project in the region. As recently as the beginning of December, CRS and the Church convened traditional leaders from among the Lou Nuer and Murle, as well as representatives of youth and women’s groups, to discuss longstanding tensions between the two groups and address the root causes behind the ongoing conflict.
“After nearly four decades of working in Sudan and South Sudan, CRS recognises that sustainable development and peace are tightly interwoven,” Boyd says. “To contribute to a lasting improvement in the level of basic services and economic opportunities available to people throughout South Sudan, it is imperative to support communities to find meaningful, concrete ways to resolve their differences and put an end to destructive conflict. Simultaneously, tensions between groups are often exacerbated by the scarcity of basic services like access to water, schools, or health clinics. Development and peace have to happen at the same time.”
CRS will continue to commit to cultivating a culture of peace in South Sudan as it responds to this emergency and in its continued work in Jonglei in infrastructure development, job creation, health, water and sanitation and food security.