JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN/NEW YORK—Rising violence against civilians in southern Unity State, South Sudan, is creating an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, depriving the population of shelter, food, and medical care, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today, calling for increased protection of civilians and safe access for humanitarian organizations.
MSF teams in southern Unity State hear daily reports of extortions, abductions, mass rapes, and killings, and have witnessed villages burnt to the ground and crops looted and destroyed.
"As the conflict intensifies, violence against the civilian population is escalating," said Tara Newell, MSF emergency manager. "The civilian population is subjected to repeated and targeted violence. MSF has not seen this level of violence and brutality before."
An MSF compound in the town of Leer was looted on October 3, forcing MSF's Leer hospital to close for the second time since May. MSF's staff was forced to evacuate, leaving vulnerable people in the surrounding areas without medical care, food support, or other assistance.
Violence has forced the population to hide for long periods in the surrounding bush and swamplands. Unable to harvest crops and desperately short of food, they are surviving on whatever they can forage.
"Patients at our mobile clinics in Leer and surrounding villages described many months of insecurity," said Newell. "Hiding in constant fear, they have been eating lily roots or leaves to survive."
MSF teams observed concerning levels of malnutrition in Leer and surrounding villages in August and September, estimating that between 28 and 34 percent of the population was acutely malnourished. Despite extremely difficult access to the population, on the few days MSF teams were able to assess child health, they rapidly identified 78 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
As the conflict has intensified in southern Unity State in October, malnutrition is likely to have worsened.
"Without regular and reliable access to food assistance and nutritional support, children are likely to have become acutely malnourished," said Newell. "Those children who were already identified to be severely malnourished are very likely to have died."
MSF has worked in South Sudan's Unity state since 1988, providing independent, neutral and impartial medical and humanitarian assistance. In the past three months, four MSF staff members have been killed and many more are unaccounted for due to the violence in Unity State.