Bentiu - The number of civilians seeking shelter in United Nations bases in war-torn South Sudan has reached over 100 000 for the first time in more than six-months of conflict, the UN said on Thursday.
The continued rise in the number of people fleeing violence offers a clear indication conditions continue to worsen in the impoverished nation, with over 101 000 civilians crammed inside squalid camps across the country and the numbers continuing to rise.
The largest increase has been in the northern oil-own of Bentiu, state capital of Unity, where over 45 000 civilians are now packed in a makeshift camp in dire conditions, with many areas flooded due to torrential rains.
The town has been badly damaged in heavy fighting between rebels and government, changing hands several times. Many in camps have fled ethnic violence by rebels loyal to ousted vice-president Riek Machar, from the Nuer tribe, or forces behind President Salva Kiir, from the larger Dinka tribe.
“People are voting with their feet, many do not feel safe,” UN chief in South Sudan Hilde Johnson said, after visiting Bentiu this week.
“This is also reflecting a terrible consequence of the fighting, which is food insecurity,” she added, according to the statement released on Thursday.
“People are hungry, there is severe malnutrition and civilians are also coming to the UNMISS base for food.”
The conflict in the world's youngest and one of its most poor countries has killed thousands and forced more than 1.5 million to flee their homes since the war broke out in mid-December.
The US-based Fund for Peace think tank this week ranked South Sudan as bottom of its fragile states index, beating anarchic Somalia to be worst in the world. It warned that neither the rebels nor the government appear to perceive “that it is 'losing' and could be compelled to put down arms.”
The fighting between Kiir and Machar's forces has been marked by widespread atrocities and, according to aid agencies, has pushed the world's youngest nation to the brink of famine.
Earlier this month, Doctors Without Borders warned grim conditions in the Bentiu camp are causing an “alarming number of deaths”, with three children aged under five are dying every day.
The UN mission in South Sudan opened the gates to its peacekeeping bases to civilians when heavy fighting broke out in mid December, expecting to offer temporary shelter, but many of those inside the camps say they are too frightened to leave fearing revenge attacks.
Peace talks between in Ethiopia adjourned on Monday with no progress made on forming an interim government or implementing a ceasefire.