Humanitarian targeting

Fighting in Upper Nile in the second half of 2022 displaced tens of thousands of people, and put additional pressure on the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Malakal—the last IDP camp under the protection of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and one that the UN mission has long sought to close.[1] Agwelek mobilizations on the west bank of the White Nile at the end of February 2023 led more people to seek shelter in the Malakal PoC site, and much of the Shilluk population of the west bank remains displaced following the Nuer incursions of November–December 2022.

A resurgence of violence will critically affect Nuer communities in the south of Upper Nile, aggravating an ongoing humanitarian disaster. The most recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) for South Sudan, published in November 2022, claimed that some people in Fangak would suffer from devastating levels of food insecurity (classified as IPC Phase 5, or people facing catastrophe/famine) in the post-harvest period from December 2022 to March 2023. It also projected that some people in Pigi would also be in IPC Phase 5 during the lean season of April–July 2023 (IPC, 2022).[2] Disruptions to humanitarian access to these communities will render them even more food insecure.

A resurgence of armed conflict in the state would, once again, intentionally disrupt the distribution of urgently needed humanitarian supplies and services. Attempts to shape access to humanitarian resources have proved one of the main motors of violence in Upper Nile. In 2022, the principal rhetorical device employed by the SPLA-IO to mobilize forces in Ayod and Fangak was to claim that to ensure World Food Programme (WFP) distributions could occur, the Nuer needed military control of the White Nile. Humanitarian access became a spur to conflict. All belligerent parties have disrupted the distribution of humanitarian resources to putatively opposition populations and have turned humanitarian distributions into military objectives. In September–December 2022, the SPLA-IO and the Nuer White Army raided sites immediately after WFP distributions, as did the Agwelek. A resurgence of fighting in Upper Nile will not only lead to interruptions in distributions to vulnerable populations, but also highlight the way in which contentions over humanitarian aid represent a fundamental part of the conflict.


[1] For further details on UNMISS’s relation to the Malakal PoC site, see Craze and Pendle (2020).

[2] It is impossible to determine whether the largely Shilluk county of Panyikang is also likely to be classified as IPC Phase 5 because the conflict prevented the gathering of sufficient data. Fangak and Pigi counties will be in IPC 4 (emergency) overall, though some individuals in both counties are expected to be in IPC 5.