South Sudan: Displacement and Destruction of Health Facilities in Jonglei State

New MSF Report Reveals Alarming Attacks on Civilians and Medical Centers, Forcing Thousands to Flee During Malaria Season

Ongoing violence in Jonglei state has had a devastating impact on tens of thousands of people, with many forcibly displaced and further cut off from health care due to the destruction of medical facilities

South Sudan 2012 © Robin Meldrum/MSF

Residents of Gumuruk village in Jonglei State return to their homes after spending a month fleeing violence in the bush.

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN, NOVEMBER 27, 2012—Ongoing violence in South Sudan’s Jonglei state has had a devastating impact on tens of thousands of people, with many forcibly displaced and further cut off from health care due to the destruction of medical facilities, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said in a report released today.

While Jonglei state has a long history of intercommunal cattle-raiding, thousands of civilians, including women, and children as young as four months old, have been caught up in violent attacks since 2009, which usually occur during the dry season. A disarmament campaign begun in mid-2012 led to widespread insecurity and was accompanied by abuses against civilians. Further fighting in Jonglei between a militia group and South Sudan’s armed forces has compounded the violence, causing new displacements at the height of malaria season. Health care is threatened as medical facilities are targeted and destroyed.

“Patients arriving in MSF clinics seeking treatment for injuries describe how they have been forced to make devastating decisions about which children to flee with and which children to leave behind,” said Chris Lockyear, MSF operational manager. “What we are seeing is an emergency; the lives and health of Jonglei’s population are hanging by a thread. The dry season is now upon us, making movement around the area possible again, and we fear a further spike in violence, injury, and displacement.”

The MSF report, South Sudan’s Hidden Crisis: How Violence Against Civilians Is Devastating Communities and Preventing Access to Life-Saving Health Care in Jonglei, contains harrowing accounts of civilians caught up in attacks on villages.

A woman treated by MSF spoke of an attack in March this year: “They threw children in the fire. If the child can run, they will shoot them with the gun; if they are small and cannot run, they will kill them with a knife.” Women and children made up more than 50 percent of people suffering from gunshot wounds treated by MSF after an attack in January 2012.

The indirect consequences of the violence are less visible but equally serious. Entire communities have fled deep into the bush. Without shelter, food, or safe drinking water, they are susceptible to malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition, and diarrhea.

Medical facilities have come under attack in Jonglei state, denying health care to an already vulnerable population. MSF health centers were destroyed or looted in Pieri in August 2011, in Pibor and Lekwongole in December 2011, again in Lekwongole in August 2012, and in Gumuruk in September 2012. MSF is the only provider of free high-quality health care in northern and central Jonglei, with six medical facilities serving a population of 287,000 people. From January 2011 to October 2012, MSF treated hundreds of wounded people and provided more than 227,851 medical consultations.

“MSF remains committed to providing neutral and impartial health care in Jonglei but we fear there may be even more medical needs among people who cannot reach our clinics, due to sheltering in the bush or fear of travelling to seek care,” said Lockyear. “MSF calls on all armed groups to respect medical humanitarian facilities and staff.”