Humanitarian delivery and diversion

Conflict in Jonglei and the GPAA in December 2022–January 2023 has aggravated an already dire humanitarian situation. The most recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) for South Sudan, published in November 2022, claimed that Jonglei and the GPAA would be in IPC Phase 3 (crisis) or IPC Phase 4 (emergency) from December 2022 to March 2023, with certain areas facing IPC Phase 5 (catastrophe) in both Jonglei (Akobo and Fangak) and the GPAA (Pibor county) (IPC, 2022). The situation is likely to get worse during the lean season of April–July 2023, as household food stocks diminish. The conflict has restricted movement and caused displacement and losses of livestock.

In this context, humanitarian assistance has become both invaluable to Jonglei’s communities and a valuable prize to be contested. Since February 2023, humanitarian convoys in the state have been repeatedly attacked, with 120 metric tons of food aid taken in three exemplary incidents (though around 30 metric tons were recovered by the government).[1]

The road from Bor—the World Food Programme’s (WFP) main distribution hub—to Pibor had been largely closed since January 2022 by Bor armed youth, following an attack on Bor South by Murle raiders.[2] After it reopened in January 2023, humanitarian convoys were repeatedly looted in the area around Anyidi. According to figures close to the Jonglei state administration, the level of organization involved in these attacks is such that it is highly likely that members of the army and the government are involved.[3]

The objective of these lootings is to attack Pibor from a distance by denying food aid to the GPAA, where the humanitarian situation is even worse than in Jonglei. These attacks also express the resentment of Anyidi’s Dinka population. WFP cut food distribution in Bor South because of more pressing needs elsewhere in the country and the organization’s budget shortfall.[4] This argument does not convince the youth of Bor South, however, who watch trucks full of food leave Bor, intended for their rivals in Akobo and Pibor. In a zero-sum struggle between populations, neutrality is not possible, and even humanitarian assistance takes a political position. In this context, the Bor Dinka have little incentive to allow food assistance to be delivered to the Murle.

On 27 April 2023, another humanitarian convoy was attacked en route to Pibor at Anyidi. Two ‘bodas’ (motorbikes) drove up to the middle of the convoy of 29 vehicles and forced two trucks off the road at gunpoint.[5] While UNMISS vehicles were behind the commandeered vehicles, they did not intervene in the hijacking. After the event, UNMISS rapidly deployed a Quick Response Force, and SSPDF and South Sudan National Police Service forces also arrived at the scene. The two hijacked trucks were subsequently found, but UNMISS failed to recover the food from these vehicles. Despite UNMISS force protection for humanitarian convoys, attacks persist. Without sufficient food pre-positioned in Pibor, there is a high risk of hunger-related deaths during the rainy season. Attacks on convoys, however, prevent such pre-positioning.

Humanitarian convoys are also attacked around Gadiang, Uror county. These attacks often target vehicles returning after distributing food aid and focus not on looting, but on rendering the road insecure. Small Murle raiding groups that continue to attack Lou Nuer civilians in Uror and Nyirol counties may be responsible for carrying out these operations, although this has been denied by sources close to the GPAA administration.[6] The other possibility is that these attacks are carried out by SSPDF soldiers, in what is effectively a mafia protection racket, designed to force WFP into accepting and paying for a military armed escort, thus ensuring that someone—finally—pays the army’s wages. The SSPDF and the Jonglei state government have repeatedly attempted to pressure humanitarian organizations into accepting government escorts.


[1]Telephone interviews with international NGO and UN staff, January–May 2023.

[2] The road was reopened for a brief period in May 2022, before being shut down once again by Dinka youth from Anyidi and Baidit.

[3] Telephone interviews with Jonglei politicians, April–May 2023.

[4] While Bor South county was projected to be in IPC Phase 3, budget cuts have necessitated that WFP prioritize areas facing IPC Phases 4 and 5.

[5] The convoy was composed of 9 WFP-contracted commercial vehicles, 9 Logistics Cluster-contracted commercial vehicles, 5 WFP fleet trucks, and 6 UN vehicles with approximately 50­–60 soldiers.

[6]Telephone interviews with Murle politicians, April 2023.