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Responding to unraveling crisis as violence threatens thousands

South Sudan, December 24, 2013

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  • More than 50,000 people have sought refuge in U.N. compounds since politically-fueled clashes broke out last week and spread from the capital of Juba. In coordination with partners, Mercy Corps is distributing tents, mosquito nets and other critical supplies to families who are too terrified by the violence to return home. Photo: Mathieu Rouquette/Mercy Corps

Last week, violence broke out on the streets of Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Fighting escalated after reported internal divisions within the ruling party and rivalries between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar ignited.

According to the United Nations, some 34,000 people have sought shelter from the conflict in the U.N. peacekeepers’ two bases in this capital city, and another 17,000 at the U.N. base in Bor, which remains the principle flashpoint. Reports estimate over 81,000 people have been displaced from their homes, with five of the country’s 10 states affected by the current crisis.

Mercy Corps' emergency response

Their needs are clear: water, healthcare, food and shelter. Mercy Corps has decades of experience responding to crises in the world’s toughest places, and we’ve begun our emergency response here. Working in close coordination with partners in the U.N. camps of Juba, we are distributing family tents as well as non-food item kits, including: blankets, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, soap, jerry cans and kitchen supplies.

While two-year-old South Sudan has had its share of conflict and border clashes, the magnitude and rapid escalation of this latest crisis is alarming and unheard of since Independence in 2011.

Along with the rest of Juba, I was put on lockdown for several days due to heavy gunfire. By mid-week, the violence had moved out to the neighbouring states, first Jonglei and then Unity. I was finally able to make an exploratory run to the office. Shops and restaurants were reopening, and vehicle traffic gave the semblance of a normal day. The airport reopened and, toward the end of last week, movement on the city’s main routes was possible, with heavy military presence.

Despite a sense of normalcy today in Juba, the crisis remains real and humanitarian needs are urgent.

I visited one of the U.N. camps where tens of thousands of people, predominately from the Nuer ethnic group, have taken refuge, including a dear friend of mine. Finding him was hard: His phone was out of battery and he could only send a text, switch the device off and then on again to read the reply.

The situation there is dire — sanitation facilities, food and shelter are extremely limited. Nevertheless, for many, these meager options are much better than the uncertainty outside the compound gates, where safety and security cannot be guaranteed.

This situation is fluid — now violence has spread to Upper Nile. As the country teeters on the brink of unraveling, no one can predict what happens tomorrow.

Our teams are closely monitoring the situation and once security and access improve, we plan to expand our efforts to bring relief to the people who need it most. Mercy Corps has worked in Sudan and South Sudan for nearly three decades and we remain committed to helping affected communities recover from this latest crisis.

How you can help

Make a gift to support Mercy Corps' emergency response in South Sudan and around the world. You'll help families survive crisis today and rebuild in the year to come. Donate today ▸