The closure for nearly two months of a road between Northern and Southern Sudan has led to serious food shortages in Southern Sudan’s Unity State, with government officials and aid workers expressing concern over the food security of thousands of displaced people, returnees and others.
At the same time, rebel militia activity in some districts of Unity State, and aerial bombing allegedly by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), have hindered relief agencies’ access.
“High fuel prices, insecurity and the onset of the rainy season have worsened the situation,” Riem Mut, social development minister and acting agriculture minister in the Unity State government, told IRIN on 11 June. “There is a food crisis in Unity although the situation has improved somewhat in the past few days with the trickling in of supplies from southern routes.
In April, the authorities in the north restricted the movement of goods along the Khartoum-Olbeid-Nyamar-Kadugli-Kharasana (all in the North) route which links up with Parieng, a district in the north of Unity State.
Mut said vulnerable households - returnees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and food insecure host communities - were the hardest hit by the blocking of the road. Prices in Unity State markets, especially food prices, have shot up.
A [50kg] bag of sorghum previously sold for 200 Sudanese pounds (US$74) now costs 320 pounds ($118), meaning that `wal wal’ (a traditional food made of sorghum) is now scarce, Mut said.
|Militia leaders in Unity State|
|Recent months have seen several commanders defect from the ranks of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to form their own militia groups, in some cases with alleged support from Khartoum. Several have bases in Unity State, where there have been clashes with the SPLA: |
Maj-Gen Peter Gadet - based in his native Mayom District. Commands a reported 1,000 men. In March, Gadet formed the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), a group that incorporates several other ex-SPLA commanders and which has clashed with the SPLA in Unity, notably in Parieng , Abiemnhom and Mayom counties, where hundreds of civilians have been displaced.
Cmdr Gatluak Gai - based in Koch District. Alleged to have up to 500 men under his command. Gai is reportedly trying to surrender and has initiated contact with the SPLM authorities.
Cmdr Mathew Pul Jang, based in Mayom, has joined Gadet’s SSLA.
Cmdr Kuol Chal, originally from Rubkona County; has joined Gadet’s SSLA.
Cmdr Phillip Bipan - has also joined Gadet’s SSLA.
A check on Rubkona District market (near Bentiu) indicated that prices of most food products - sorghum, maize, sugar, sesame and rice - had in some cases almost doubled since the road was blocked. Vegetables, fruit and other perishable commodities were not available.
Traders at the market said goods coming in from southern routes were costly, hence the increase in prices. Before the road blockage, a 90kg bag of onions sold for the equivalent of $74, but was now $130; a 50kg bag of wheat flour which used to cost $92 was now $130; while a 50kg bag of sugar which used to be $92 had gone up to $130, according to traders in Rubkona.
Gideon Gatpan Thoar, minister for information in Unity State, told IRIN: “We had hoped this road would have been reopened by now but, instead, it seems the northern authorities have even tightened the closure; this has impacted negatively on us after the Khartoum government restricted movement of goods. Only passengers coming to the South are allowed through. Efforts by the Southern authorities in Juba to consult the Northern government over the reopening of the road have failed.”
A riverine corridor and road networks from Juba, capital of Southern Sudan, had allowed limited amounts of East African food and fuel to reach Unity State since the northern route’s closure, said Thoar.
In Juba goods can be transported by barge on the River Nile to Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State, then to the port of Adok in Unity’s Leer County. From Adok, they are taken by road to urban areas in Rubkona and Bentiu counties. By road, goods move from Juba through Mapel and Rumbek (in Lakes State) and on to Mayendit County in Unity for onward transportation to Rubkona and Bentiu.
Thoar said a 40-km stretch of extremely poor road near Mayendit was currently being repaired and was expected to be completed in two weeks.
Nyamoka Koriam, a resident of Rubkona District, said many people were selling their livestock to buy cereals. “Many of us rely on the markets for grains but the prices of most of them have gone up since the road from the north was closed; I have a large family, I don’t know for how long we will survive by selling our cows.”
Northern bombing, rebel activity
Aid workers say access to three districts - Parieng (where bombings have reportedly been going on in the past four days), Mayom and Abiemnhom - has been limited. Abiemnhom, on the border with South Kordofan State, has seen a sharp influx of IDPs in the past month following conflict in the disputed Abyei region. A significant number of IDPs are also said to be in Mayom following March-May fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and militia groups led by ex-SPLA rebels.
Five civilians were reportedly killed and over a dozen injured on 9 June when suspected SAF forces bombed Jaw village in Parieng District, about 80km northeast of Bentiu. Aid agencies have so far not gained access to the area to determine the extent of civilian displacement. Unconfirmed reports on 11 June indicated that bombing was still going on in the area.
Photo: Paul Banks/UNMIS
|Insecurity has hindered access to displaced communities|
Unity’s information minister Thoar said the bombings were part of efforts by the North to push SPLA troops from their positions in states bordering the north. Southern Sudan is scheduled to become Africa’s newest state on 9 July, when it completes a long process of seceding from the North.
“We require urgent humanitarian intervention before the situation explodes,” Thoar said. “We especially need food assistance, shelter for the displaced and medicine. Moreover, from now until July, we expect a lot of rain in the area and this will affect road transport and help will not easily get to those in need.”
An aid worker, who requested anonymity, told IRIN: “Several ongoing [relief] programmes on health, food security, shelter, livelihoods and capacity-building as well as water and hygiene in the counties of Parieng, Mayom and Abiemnhom have been greatly affected by insecurity. Some agencies have suspended programmes in Mayom due to ongoing insecurity and supplies have not reached those in need in Parieng and Abiemnhom due to landmine issues.”
Michael Bateah Kutei, acting director of the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC) in Unity State, told IRIN limited humanitarian access due to continuing conflict “has hindered the conducting of assessments of displaced communities”.
He said the laying of landmines by militias on roads in some districts had further complicated the situation. The SSRRC is the humanitarian arm of the South Sudan government.
“Landmines have complicated the conflict in Unity because it has affected humanitarian aid delivery; aid agencies cannot move out of Bentiu because of this,” Kutei said. “Civilians are now caught up in fighting between the militias and SPLA. In Mayom District alone, at least 20 civilians died during fighting in April and May.”
He said the state has an estimated 42,800 civilians who have been displaced by fighting since February.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Unity is one of the Southern states to have received a high number of returnees from the North since October 2010. So far, at least 80,000 have returned to Unity in organized returns, with aid workers estimating that a significant number of spontaneous returnees had also made their way into the state.
Father Stephen Ocir of the Catholic Church in Mayom District told IRIN the church was urging the Southern government to consider dialogue with ex-SPLA rebel leaders in Unity.