Armed attacks blamed on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Southern Sudan’s Western Equatoria State have displaced thousands of civilians and undermined food security, say local and UN officials.
Fear of the LRA, a Ugandan-based militia, has led 25,000 people in the state to flee their homes in recent months, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Almost 10 times that number has been displaced by LRA attacks there since late 2008 and the group is blamed for some 200 deaths in the state in 2009.
Two of the state’s administrative districts or payams - Sangua and Basukangbi - had no inhabitants at all when UN agencies conducted an assessment mission in early August.
Consequently, many fields, where crops such as sorghum and groundnut are now ready for harvest, have been abandoned.
“Western Equatoria used to be food sufficient but because of the insecurity, IDPs rely on handouts,” said Western Equatoria State deputy governor Sapana Abuyi.
Many of the displaced - more than 3,000 from Sangua and Basukangbi alone - have gathered in towns such as Nzara and survive on wild food sources such as leaves and fruit, according to the findings of a multi-agency assessment mission, which also found that the displaced lacked adequate sanitation, drinking water and health services.
Fear of fresh attacks means many of the IDPs have no intention of returning home soon, so it will be necessary to provide long-term services in their current locations.
“It’s not that safe anywhere in the state,” said Richard Tambua, a leader of a self-defence group known as the Arrow Boys.
Western Equatoria saw relatively little conflict during the civil war that raged between North and South Sudan from 1983 until a peace accord was signed in 2005. Now, Southern Sudan’s military and the UN’s peacekeeping mission are unable to neutralize the threat posed by the small, highly mobile and ruthless units of the LRA, which is also present in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).
According to Human Rights Watch, the LRA has abducted some 700 people in DRC and CAR over the past 18 months.
“During the abduction campaign, the LRA has brutally killed adults and children who tried to escape, walked too slowly, or were unable to bear the heavy loads they were forced to carry,” the New York-based group said in a report released on 11 August.
Around the same time, the Enough Project, an advocacy organization based in Washington DC, also issued a report about the LRA’s increasing threat to civilians because of the lack of any “meaningful military force” to challenge the group.
The report’s author, Ledio Cakaj, told IRIN: “There is a real fear that unlike in the past two years where LRA violence was sporadic, this time they are in Sudan to stay.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions