JUBA, South Sudan (February 24, 2014) —) Last week’s fighting around Malakal, in the Upper Nile State, displaced thousands and left many dead. Eyewitnesses report that hundreds of decomposing corpses still lay strewn all over the town.
World Vision's specialist on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), Paul Skayem, along with water engineer Paul Otto, were in Malakal during the attack. They described what transpired as "horrific."
“Last Tuesday at 7:30 in the morning, there were shouts from armed men who were charging toward our camp. Pandemonium broke out. Some of us fled into the bunker, while others were petrified and remained within their tents,” Paul Otto said.
According to Otto, South Sudanese nationals within the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound, who had been displaced by earlier fighting, either took refuge in the bunker alongside agencies or fled the compound with some killed or injured.
“The shooting and detonation of bombs went on for two to three hours, as we sat in great fear within the bunker, along with colleagues from other agencies including United Nations staff members,” Otto said.
A military checkpoint that was stationed approximately a half mile from the UNMISS compound, where a tank had been based, was completely destroyed. Decomposing bodies of soldiers in uniform now litter the area.
“The water pipeline was destroyed. The UNMISS compound and the adjacent Protection of Civilians area, where displaced people were living and World Vision and other agencies have been working, was without water for three days,” Paul Skayem said.
Initial relief efforts by humanitarian agencies to reach 28,000 people, who’d sought sanctuary in the town's UNMISS compound, were halted amidst the heavy fighting between government and opposition forces. The fighting also severely hindered efforts to reach the hundreds of thousands spread across Malakal town and other locations within the Upper Nile State.
Many of the displaced reportedly remain in hiding along river banks, behind shrubs, in trenches or any other landscape that provides suitable cover. Others who had sought refuge in Malakal town within the St. Joseph’s Catholic church compound, or at Malakal Boys High School and at the Malakal Teaching hospital, have since fled.
Those made homeless by the fighting now face a growing crisis. Most food and essential supplies, together with many personal belongings, were looted during the exchange of fire.
World Vision assists the survivors
When the fighting subsided and calm returned to the area, World Vision’s response team swung into action, reaching out to those who survived the attack.
“Our staff joined other agencies and immediately repaired the destroyed water system. People within the UNMISS compound now receive 2,015 litres of water per day. It’s still very much inadequate, but it’s making a big difference,” Skayem said.
The World Vision response team is currently involved in relief food distribution within the UNMISS compound.
“We, along with other agencies, are assessing the food situation. Together with MSF, we are evacuating patients and those injured from Malakal town,” World Vision’s Response Manager in South Sudan Philippe Guiton noted.
“Over the last two days, World Vision has distributed relief supplies within the Malakal compound to about 9,000 people, with a total of 150,000 pounds of food,” Guiton added, stressing that resources remain thin on the ground.
With the violence in Malakal temporarily subsiding, reports received by World Vision indicate that fighting has now erupted near Rom, which is nearly 50 miles north of Malakal. World Vision has expanded its relief and Non Food Items (NFI) distribution to the area.
Guiton says that the initial plan was for the response team to help those within Malakal town, then extend the relief response to about 10,000 displaced people within the Rom area, but the fighting that is reported in that region will likely hamper those efforts.
Over 800,000 South Sudanese have been internally displaced, with another 145,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries.