MSF may suspend operations in South Sudan’s Pibor over escalating violence

Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says some 160,000 people in the South Sudanese county of Pibor, in Jonglei State, could be left without any healthcare if an escalation of violence forces it to shut down its operations.

“We fear we will be forced to suspend services in Pibor… This would be devastating for the population, leaving 160,000 people without access to healthcare. The nearest health facility is around 150km away, making it completely inaccessible during the rainy season,” Stefano Zannini, head of MSF’s South Sudan mission, told IRIN.

The organization has already suspended operations in the two nearby towns of Lekwongole and Gumuruk, after violence forced its locally recruited staff and residents to flee. The move left some 90,000 people without access to healthcare.

“We are extremely concerned about the health of this vulnerable population, which is now confronted with violence and displacement, and may lose access to healthcare entirely in the peak malaria season and in the midst of the heaviest flooding seen in the area in recent years,” Zannini added.

The violence, which has gone on for decades - mainly over cattle - has pitted the Luo Nuer and the Murle communities against each other. In late December 2011 and early January of this year, the fighting escalated when a group of youths from the Luo Nuer tribe marched into Pibor town and burned Murle villages, affecting an estimated 120,000 people.

An MSF-run hospital in Pibor was ransacked and looted in the violence, forcing it to temporarily close.