February 23, 2014 (JUBA) – British charity Oxfam said it was forced to withdraw four of its aid workers after they were trapped when violence broke out in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state violence, warning that the lack of access to civilians in need would worsen the already tenuous humanitarian situation on the ground.
Malakal, a strategic town 497km north-east of the capital, Juba witnessed lots of violence last week, leaving it completely destroyed with many civilian deaths, according to United Nations.
Several aid workers, Oxfam said, remain holed up in the UN compound and were unable to leave since fighting broke out on Tuesday between government troops and rebel forces.
“The first few days we were all afraid of what was happening in the town because of the sound of regular shelling. As the days went by, we heard terrible reports from the people arriving at the UN for their protection – stories of women and girls who were threatened with abduction by armed men and were then shot as soon as they ran,” said Cecilia Kiden, who headed Oxfam’s response team in Malakal.
She added, “When the violence in the town began, Oxfam had to severely scale back its work at the UN base as regular shelling in the town and violence both inside and outside the base made the movement of staff and supplies very difficult”.
With nearly 21,000 people reportedly seeking shelter within the UN premises, Oxfam said it was likely to resume its activities on Wednesday, citing clean drinking water, food and medical care as urgently needed by those displaced.
“We will get back to work to help the many vulnerable people in Malakal as soon as possible but the utter breakdown in the cessation of hostilities, as exemplified by this round of violence, is creating a difficult situation for us and an even more desperate situation for the nearly one million displaced by violence in South Sudan,” said Jose Barahona, Oxfam’s Country Director in South Sudan.
“Every day a gun is fired is another blow to a nation on its knees, a political solution to this horrific crisis cannot come soon enough,” he added.
Prior to the December 15, 2013 outbreak of violence, the British charity reportedly ran a long term development programme in Malakal, which was later suspended until early month. Currently, the agency is reportedly promoting good hygiene practices among the displaced people sheltering inside the UN base.