For S. Sudan aid workers, bad weather is as much a worry as violence

 

People trudged along the main passageway through the United Nations’ Malakal Camp for Internally Displaced People in South Sudan in late July. The wet season makes life for hundreds of thousands of refugees very challenging, as bad weather can make roads and paths impassable, exacerbate the difficulties of distributing aid. Matthew Abbot/AP

It’s been a grim week for aid workers in South Sudan.

On Monday, a pro-government militia in the contested oil-producing state of Upper Nile shot dead an employee of the humanitarian group Norwegian People’s Aid. That murder was followed by the killings of five aid workers on Tuesday in the same region. Hundreds of others then evacuated the area, leaving behind 127,000 refugees who had depended on their assistance.

The killings underscore the immense difficulties humanitarians face in trying to save tens of thousands of lives. South Sudan’s civil war is pushing the country toward famine, intensifying the need for outside aid. Yet violence against aid workers has been a striking component of the seven-month war, now considered one of the world’s worst conflicts.

The United Nations warns that 3.9 million people need to be fed by year’s end or 230,000 children will suffer acute malnutrition and 50,000 could die. Farmers have missed the planting season because of fighting, and militiamen have looted food stocks meant for hundreds of thousands of civilians.

A massive aid machine – currently the world’s largest, according to the UN – is mobilizing to prevent that disaster scenario. But the barriers are high: Roads are nearly nonexistent here and are clogged by rainy season mud. Those needing food are dispersed across one of the world’s largest grass swamps. Agencies are a billion dollars short of funds, and fighting prevents workers from reaching the worst hit places. Read more…

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