Aid workers affected as ceasefire stalls in South Sudan

The deserted town of Malakal in South Sudan, where clashes between the government and opposition forces have caused residents and aid workers to flee. Médecins Sans Frontières lost contact with two-thirds of its local staff in souther Unity state. Photo by: Isaac Billy / United Nations

After just one month, the long-awaited ceasefire agreement between government and opposition forces in South Sudan is faltering — and becoming again a cause for grave concern among humanitarians on the ground.

On Tuesday, international medical group Médecins Sans Frontières announced it has lost contact with two-thirds of its 240 local staff in southern Unity state after deteriorating security conditions forced the aid workers to flee to the bush along with several of their patients, leaving the MSF-supported hospital in Leer county — the only fully functioning secondary healthcare facility in the area — completely empty.

MSF maintains sporadic contact with some of its staff members via satellite phone, but the organization admits it is difficult to pinpoint where they are exactly, with the situation on the ground “chaotic” and “hostile.”

“We need access to those who are hiding in the bush, and so that we can resupply our staff with medicines, but it is currently too dangerous in the ongoing fighting,” MSF UK press officer Sophie-Jane Madden told Devex.

MSF staff split into small groups to lower chances of attack, but the medical supplies they carried with them are now running out, according Raphael Gorgeu, the group’s head of mission.

“We are very concerned for our staff, their families, our patients and the thousands of local people who are hiding in the bush. They are living in a very precarious position. The longer that people are out in the bush, the more vulnerable they are to dehydration, malnutrition and disease outbreaks,” Madden said.

MSF has no further information as to the state of the hospital in Leer, which was bereft of any staff member or patient, leaving it open for plunder. Since the fighting broke out in December, several aid warehouses, clinics and aid trucks have been subject to looting. U.N. agencies and NGOs on the ground had hoped the situation would stabilize following the ceasefire agreement in January, but that doesn’t seem likely now.

Many donors — among them the United States, which had previously threatened to cut assistance to the country — had already sounded the alarm on reports of violations to the agreement.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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