Mercy Corps has expanded emergency response work to the northern border town of Bentiu, where 8,000 people are sheltering at the U.N. base, seeking refuge from escalating violence in South Sudan.
We were among the first responders when fighting broke out in the capital of Juba last month, and our team has been on the ground since helping thousands of families struggling with this latest crisis.
Unfortunately, violent attacks quickly spread outside the capital city of Juba, with heavy clashes most recently occurring in neighboring Jonglei State and farther north in Unity State. Fighting continues, including renewed episodes in the capital just a few nights ago.
An estimated 200,000 people have been displaced since the current conflict erupted on December 15, increasing urgent needs for water, health care, sanitation, food, shelter and protection.
"Although security constraints prevent us from reaching some of the hardest hit areas, where relief is needed most, we are working in close coordination with our partners to meet urgent basic needs in Juba and Bentiu," said Mathieu Rouquette, Mercy Corps' Country Director in South Sudan.
Emergency water and sanitation work in Bentiu
Our established presence in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, allowed us to launch emergency water, sanitation and hygiene activities there this week. We are working in coordination with partners to deliver clean drinking water, build latrines, and collect solid waste at the U.N. base that is providing safety for thousands of families.
The risk of disease spreading is a major concern at the overcrowded displacement camps that have sprung up at U.N. bases throughout the country. Approximately 60,000 people are sheltering at these temporary locations.
We also continue our work with partners to distribute critical supplies to families at the two U.N. bases in Juba. So far, we have provided non-food item kits including blankets, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, soap, jerry cans and cooking supplies to 22,000 people.
In all, the emergency response coordinated by the U.N. and international organizations, including Mercy Corps, has reached 158,000 people with assistance.
Unstable security limits humanitarian access
But with the unstable security conditions limiting humanitarian access, there are thousands more people in need of help outside the U.N. compounds who cannot be reached, and the number of those displaced is likely higher than what's been recorded.
We do know that there are serious protection concerns in all areas of South Sudan where there is armed violence. So we are conducting assessments in other difficult-to-reach areas in Warrap State and the Abyei Administrative Area to quickly ramp up our response and have already begun distributing critical non-food items there to families outside U.N. bases.
Mercy Corps is committed to our long-term development programs in South Sudan, and we have strong networks and operations in numerous locations where we can reach those in need.
Entire country is threatened
"The situation is dire. Beyond those displaced and lives lost, it's the country as a whole that is falling down," Mathieu commented. "If the crisis continues at this scale, will have a devastating long-term impact on the citizens and fledgling economy of this young nation.
"Businesses have closed, children are not going to school and families have lost what little they had in possessions," he continued. "Regular development assistance programs are now jeopardized because of the conflict, eradicating the progress made over the past two years."
Peace talks began on January 3 in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, but so far there are no signs of the situation on the ground improving. Although the U.N. and international organizations are hopeful that the talks will lead to an immediate cease-fire and long-term political solution, the humanitarian needs will require significant effort for months to come.
The U.N. has called for roughly $200 million to fund relief efforts over the next three months. We anticipate needing to reach about 400,000 people.
"The international community must support a robust humanitarian response," said Mathieu. "These are dark times for the young nation. We can make a difference here, and alleviate the suffering of so many."
How you can help
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