Agencies battle to stave off starvation in South Sudan’s civil war sanctuaries

The village of Pathai, Jonglei state, a relative safe haven for nearly 14,000 people who have fled violence in war-torn South Sudan. Although safe from the war it has now choked off their access to food.

The village of Pathai, Jonglei state, a relative haven for nearly 14,000 people who have fled violence elsewhere in South Sudan. Although people there are currently out of the way of the fighting, they are also hard to reach with food supplies. Photograph: Jacob Zocherman

Remote villages like Pathai have been engulfed by refugees and agencies have been flying in rapid response teams to provide food and medical aid

(SOURCE)  Kwene Biel has moved as far away from Bor as she can, but she has still not managed to escape the conflict in South Sudan.

The capital of Jonglei state was one of the early frontlines when the fighting started in mid-December and for two mornings in a row the 30-year-old awakened to the sound of gunfire. Finally, she and her husband decided to flee. He was shot and killed a few metres from their house, but she kept running with their six children in tow.

It took them 10 days to reach Pathai, a scrubby village in remote central Jonglei. Though still within the war zone, she decided to stay because it is far from rivers and roads that could bring fighters. “If I had not come, I would have been killed,” she says.

Biel is one of nearly 14,000 people who have spilled into Pathai and the surrounding areas in Uror county since the fighting started, according to local leaders. It has brought the recent incomers relative security, but the war has choked off their access to food.

Traders refuse to make the trip to Pathai and for months the market has been empty of salt, oil and sugar. Stocks of sorghum from last year’s harvest are nearly exhausted. This year’s crop failed because there was not enough rain. Biel, who brought nothing with her and has no land to plant, is feeding her children boiled leaves.

“Hunger is here in this county,” says Peter Gai Dual, a local representative of the country’s relief and rehabilitation agency. “Death is even here.” But aid workers are scarce, because they cannot safely sustain relief efforts.

The conflict has left South Sudan riddled with these pockets of hunger, especially in the north-east, where most of the fighting has been concentrated. Officials have warned for months that the country is teetering on the brink of a man-made famine. Jean-Louis de Brouwer, a senior European commission official, says that while the worst appears to have been averted for the time being, 3.5 million people still face severe food shortages.

“Whether there is a famine or not, when you look at the number of people who are estimated to be in emergency or crisis food situations, all the conditions for a major humanitarian catastrophe and disaster are already met,” he says.

MDG : South Sudan IDPs in Pathai, Jonglei state

People in Pathai wait to register for food distribution. Photograph: Jacob Zocherman

And officials readily admit they do not know just how severe the situation really is because of the difficulty of reaching places like Pathai.

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