Safety nets unravelling and scores falling into debt to reach safety in South Sudan conflict

Posted by Christina Corbett Humanitarian Press Officer

17th Jan 2014

JUBA (17 January 2014) - Civilians fleeing from conflict in South Sudan are spiralling into debt and leaving behind important assets in their desperate search for safety. Aid agency Oxfam fears the loss of property and precious possessions like livestock and crops will shatter people's future ability to get back on their feet.

Nearly half a million people have been forced to leave everything behind to seek refuge across South Sudan and in neighbouring countries, with ferrymen and bus drivers often charging extortionate fees for the privilege of transport. People escaping the conflict in the town of Bor (Jonglei State) are being charged between £24 (US$40) and £79 (US$130) per person to make the dangerous crossing across the Nile on overcrowded barges.

Others wanting to escape violence and uncertainty in the capital Juba are paying £24 (US$40) per person to travel just a couple of hours south to the town of Nimule (Eastern Equatoria) on the Ugandan border. Just over half the population of 12 million lives below the poverty line of £0.76, equivalent to US$1.25. The prices for space on boats are out of reach of the majority of the population who earn considerably less working as casual labourers or in informal employment.

Scores of people are being forced to trade or sell every asset they own, often with the pressure of encroaching violence, to scrape together enough money to ensure they can afford for their families to reach relative safety.

José Barahona, Country Director for Oxfam in South Sudan said:

"Vulnerable people across the country have seen their safety nets unravel in front of them in the space of a month since the conflict began. People are now having to sell whole herds of cattle to pay for their families to reach safety, others are having to make the painful decision of who they can afford to bring with them and who must be left behind.

"Oxfam is seeing people arrive in settlements in Juba and Awerial county with nothing but the clothes on their backs, no way to make money and as yet, no way to return home. In a couple of months when the planting season starts, I worry already hungry people still won't have the security to settle and grow food for their families.  

"Oxfam and other aid agencies are doing what they can to help provide aid to the most vulnerable but it's critical that all parties to the conflict open their eyes to this nation on the brink and cease hostilities immediately.  Ahead of further mediation talks in Addis Ababa on Monday, we urge negotiators to trust in diplomacy as the route to saving South Sudan."

Oxfam surveyed new arrivals to Awerial displaced person settlement this week and found over half of families had got themselves into debt with ferrymen or neighbours to make the treacherous ten hour crossing through the tributaries of the river Nile on overcrowded barges to safety. Only five per cent of families had brought any kind of asset with which they could trade for a little food or money. Several families reported their houses burnt or leaving valuable assets like goats, chickens and bags of harvested food to the mercy of looters on the other side of the river.

Oxfam is working to help people affected by the recent violence in South Sudan and has been operating in the two UN bases in Juba and the displaced person settlement in Awerial county since the early days of the conflict. Oxfam is providing hundreds of thousands of litres of clean drinking water a day to people across the three locations as well as digging latrines and promoting good hygiene practices to ensure the risk of disease is limited.  

ENDS

For more information or to arrange an interview with José Barahona, please contact Grace Cahill, Oxfam Media Officer in Juba on +211 956 708 278 / gcahill@oxfam.org.uk  or Aimee Brown, Oxfam Regional Media Officer in Nairobi on +254 736 666 663 / abrown@oxfam.org.uk

Notes to editors:

Oxfam has been working in the territory now under the Republic of South Sudan since 1986 on emergency response and long-term development.  

According to UNOCHA figures published on 14 January 2014, an estimated 413,000 people have been displaced since 15 December 2013 in South Sudan.  According to UNHCR figures updated on 16 January estimated 75,946 people from South Sudan are currently living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

Oxfam's survey of new arrivals in Awerial settlement was conducted on 15 January 2014, information was gathered from 19 households (approximately 190 people), all of whom were new arrivals from the morning of the 15 or the evening of the 14 January.  Oxfam's findings were:
- The median average money paid per person to cross the Nile from Jonglei State to Lakes State was 200 South Sudanese Pounds (US$88)

- 53% of respondents had got into debt with ferrymen or neighbours to make the crossing / 26% of respondents had managed to sell or trade assets to pay for the crossing / 16% of respondents had money saved / 5% of respondents were given free passage

- 58% of respondents had arrived with only clothing and sleeping materials and 42% had arrived with no belongings

- 37% of respondents reported their homes destroyed by armed groups or their assets looted.

- 100% of respondents reported leaving behind either family members or vital assets like livestock and harvested food.

Blog post written by Christina Corbett

Humanitarian Press Officer

More by Christina Corbett