January 2, 2014
The BBC’s Alastair Leithead reports from Awerial, home to 75,000 people
Fighting is continuing unabated in South Sudan as the two sides prepare to begin peace talks in Ethiopia.
A South Sudanese army spokesman told the BBC that clashes were continuing in Bor and parts of Unity state.
The talks appear to have been delayed as the full government delegation has not yet arrived in Addis Ababa, officials say.
Aid agencies say supplies are urgently needed for the many thousands of people forced to flee their homes.
Conditions have deteriorated in Awerial refugee camp on the banks of the Nile – now home to some 75,000 people who have fled the fighting in nearby Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, now in rebel hands.
“There is no clean drinking water. Five boreholes – it’s just not enough,” David Nash of the medical charity MSF told the BBC.
“People are drinking water straight out of the river Nile. It’s muddy, it’s not good. And there are no latrines, so open defecation is happening. Conditions for an outbreak of watery diarrhoea are perfect.”
Some 75,000 people have gathered by the Nile near the town of Awerial to escape the fighting in Bor, which lies just across the river.
People have been scrambling to get on the boats to cross the River Nile to reach safety
There is no proper shelter so the refugees are being forced to camp out under the trees. Food aid is also limited.
There are no toilet facilities or clean water. People are resorting to the Nile’s water for drinking and washing. Aid officials say the conditions are serious and desperate.
The bishop of Bor, Ruben Akurdit Ngong, who fled the fighting on Sunday and is now in the capital Juba, described the town as a “war zone” with “dead bodies everywhere”.
“When you are in Bor town, you move around closing your nose because of the terrible smell,” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.
Colonel Philip Aguer of the government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), confirmed that Bor was in rebel hands.
Bor, 200km (125 miles) north of Juba, has changed hands three times in the past two weeks.
The SPLA “withdrew tactically but fighting is still going around Bor town and it is a matter of time that SPLA will restore stability to the area”, the colonel told the BBC.
He also said fighting was taking place in Unity state’s western Mayom area and around the oil fields in the north.
A state of emergency was declared by President Salva Kiir on Wednesday in Unity and Jonglei.
At least 1,000 people have died and some 180,000 people forced from their homes since fighting erupted last month between supporters of President Kiir and those of his sacked deputy Riek Machar.
But what began as a power struggle between the two men has taken on the overtones of an ethnic conflict between members of Mr Kiir’s Dinka community and the Nuer of Mr Machar.
An Ethiopian official told Reuters news agency that the talks in Addis Ababa would begin with the two sides separately meeting mediator Seyoum Mesfin before “hopefully” proceeding to face-to-face talks.
But on Thursday afternoon, the official said: “Only half of the government’s delegation are here. The rest are set to arrive this evening.”
Observers say the discussions are likely to be complicated, as the two sides will have to agree on a mechanism to monitor a ceasefire.
Mr Kiir has already ruled out any power-sharing arrangement with Mr Machar in the longer term.
South Sudan is the world’s newest state. It was formed in 2011, gaining independence from Sudan after decades of conflict.
Sudan’s arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan’s budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state – at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north
The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world’s newest country – and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water – up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan – however this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight – this compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).