Looting concerns for NGOs in Jonglei, South Sudan

Residents affected by tribe clashes in Pibor, South Sudan receive humanitarian aid. Aid groups' operations in Pibor are in limbo after suspected members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army have looted a number of warehouses and offices containing humanitarian suuplies. Photo by: Marilena Chatziantoniou / ECHO / CC BY-ND

In April, international medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières pulled out of a town in Jonglei, South Sudan, amid rising threats to the safety of its personnel. Now, other aid groups’ operations are also in limbo in violence-ridden Pibor.

Suspected members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army looted a number of warehouses and offices containing humanitarian supplies over the weekend. Among the items plundered were the World Food Program’s stocks and Italian NGO INTERSOS’ tents and other nonfood items for internally displaced people in the area.

“Stocks were taken from two of our five warehouses in the town, one containing our food and the other holding supplies on behalf of the larger humanitarian community,” WFP spokesperson David Orr told Devex. Paola Amicucci from INTERSOS, meanwhile, confirmed the loss of all of the organization’s computers and satellite connections.

“The warehouse [was] emptied,” she said.

MSF has raised concerns over the looting, but told Devex it has yet to confirm the reports.

The incident happened in the absence of the organizations’ international and local personnel, many of which left after clashes between the military and a rebel group headed by former South Sudanese general David Yau Yau – who defected from the army in 2012 – reached Pibor in eastern Jonglei on May 9.

When these aid groups will be able to return and continue operations remains uncertain at this point. The only road connecting the Jonglei capital of Bor and Pibor remains inaccessible, and as Devex learned previously, airlifting supplies can burn aid groups’ budgets.

“The threats are very serious. We do not know when we can return safely to reactivate the base and resume the distributions,” Amicucci said. INTERSOS’ two expat staff members were temporarily relocated to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

WFP is waiting for a report from its partner organization in the area as well from colleagues in its sub-office in Bor to guide the agency’s next steps following the incidents, while MSF needs guarantees for the safety of its facilities and staff before returning to work in the area.

The three aid groups are however concerned about the impact these incidents will have on civilians in Pibor, where the rainy season is starting to complicate aid delivery.

“The risk for our international and local operators and the logistical difficulty makes us fear the disaster for the thousands of victims of Jonglei,” said Amicucci.

U.N. Acting Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan Yasmin Haque released a statement condeming the attack and urging authorities to “hold those responsible to account.”

“Aid organizations have already been forced to relocate all of their staff from Boma due to insecurity,and only a handful of aid workers now remain in Pibor (…) These types of attacks against humanitarian facilities make it harder to provide life-saving assistance to people affected by hostilities in Jonglei,” she stressed.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    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.