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A class in session at a school in Batil Refugee Camp, Maban County of South Sudan. Many schools in the area do not have basic facilities. (Rebeca Acedo/Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Maban, South Sudan) February 14, 2014 – As schools re-opened at the beginning of the month, an uneasy calm prevails in Maban, Upper Nile State of South Sudan. Staff from both local and international non-governmental organizations have started trickling back to the county, located in the northeastern part of Upper Nile State in South Sudan.

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, an estimated 863,000 people have been displaced by recent conflict which broke out in mid-December 2013. The majority of displaced remain inside South Sudan while 123,000 have fled to nearby countries.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has registered between 3,000 and 3,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maban to date. Before the conflict erupted in South Sudan, 120,092 individual refugees were currently settled in four camps in Maban county: Doro, Batil, Gendrassa and Jamam.

As of late, the area around Maban has been generally calm, although there is still a curfew which has now been reduced to 10 hours a day. Many NGO staff, including those of UNHCR, were expected back to the area from Monday 3 February 2014.

Millions affected by conflict. According to the BBC, the UN estimates that 3.7 million people are in acute need of food in South Sudan as a result of conflict there. UN Humanitarian Chief, Valerie Amos, ended her three-day mission to South Sudan on 29 January, highlighting the dire situation affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the world's youngest country.

"People are short of food, living in conditions with poor sanitation and very little water," said Ms Amos who visited displaced families in the capital, Juba, and in the town of Malakal in Upper Nile State.

In 2014, Jesuit Refugee Service plans to provide education and psychosocial services in all four camps in Maban. Teacher training had been planned as one of the major activities of JRS in Maban, scheduled to begin in January 2014. Due to insecurity, however, the project was put on hold.

A JRS needs assessment at end of January 2014 revealed that UNHCR, and many NGOs, such as Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Save the Children, were optimistic that activities would be soon back to normal in Maban. JRS plans to resume its activities next month.

Challenges encountered. As NGOs trickle back to Maban, an acute fuel shortage may hamper their operations. Fuel used to be brought from Juba to Maban by boat, but now access is blocked due to conflict. Remaining fuel is thus being rationed and limited to only essential services, such as pumping drinking water. The UN has resorted to bringing in fuel by air but this is proving costly and unsustainable.

While such resources may be limited, further stability in the country seems to be on its way. A ceasefire agreement between the rival army factions, which began the violence in mid-December, was signed on 23 January 2014 in Addis Ababa bringing hope that peace would be restored.

According to the World Food Programme, South Sudanese continue to cross the border into Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan. The situation remains unpredictable, even though the number of new arrivals has stabilized since the signing of the ceasefire agreement.

As many NGOs prepare to resume full operations in Maban, it is hoped the fragile ceasefire will hold and relative peace will be restored to South Sudan. We continue to pray that peace will prevail in Africa's newest state.

In 2012, JRS Eastern Africa closed four projects in South Sudan; namely, Nimule, Lobone, Kajo Keji and Yei after more than 15 years in the area. The closure of these projects was after the realization that a good foundation had been laid and returnees could build upon it and stand on their own. In late 2012, JRS established a project in the Yambio county of Western Equatoria State, and in 2013 expanded into Upper Nile State.

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JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of approximately 700,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.
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