The UN's Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan announced on Monday, November 2, that a UN-funded nutrition program for displaced communities in the Pibor area of Jonglei state has been suspended following a fatal attack on aid workers. The attack reportedly occurred on Thursday, October 29, when a team of local humanitarian staff employed by the NGO Plan International were ambushed by unidentified gunmen whilst returning to Pibor on foot from a nearby area where they had been distributing aid to displaced communities. One of the aid workers was killed in the attack whilst another was seriously wounded.
There remains a realistic possibility of further attacks on travelers and humanitarian staff in Jonglei state and elsewhere in South Sudan in the medium term.
Multiple attacks against aid workers have been reported in South Sudan in recent years, including ambushes of road convoys and communal violence incidents. At least eight aid workers have been killed in the country in 2020, bringing the total since the beginning of the civil war in 2013 to 123. The majority of those killed have been local South Sudanese humanitarian agency and NGO employees, but expatriate aid workers have also been targeted.
Jonglei State, and the Pibor area in particular, has been among the regions most affected by recent flooding in South Sudan, with more than half the estimated 389,000 people displaced by flooding since July being located in the state. However, insecurity persists in the region and humanitarian workers assisting displaced communities have been repeatedly attacked, including the fatal ambush of a humanitarian vehicle in the Pibor area in February 2020.
Travel in all areas of South Sudan is hazardous. Banditry and lawlessness are common in remote regions, particularly along the borders with the DRC and Central African Republic. Violent crime in such areas often targets foreign nationals and there have been reports of foreign nationals being victims of kidnapping, armed robbery, carjacking, and murder. Criminal and militant ambushes occur regularly on roads in isolated parts of the country as well as on routes leading to Juba. The Juba-Nimule road and other routes near the border with Uganda have seen a particularly high number of attacks on convoys and single vehicles in recent years.
Due to the high threat of violent crime, all travel to South Sudan should be subject to a thorough localized threat assessment and undertaken in coordination with a trusted security provider. Travelers are advised to subject all travel, particularly to remote and rural areas, to strict journey management protocols. Avoid travel at night, vary routines, and maintain a heightened level of situational awareness. Monitor local media sources to remain apprised of security-related developments and adhere to any directives issued by local authorities.
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