JUBA, — Aid agencies in South Sudan are weighing their options after an intense outbreak of fighting in the capital left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Many soldiers from rival factions are among those killed and wounded. Aid agencies in Juba have spent the last few days largely hunkered down, with staff staying at home or sleeping at office compounds.

Some larger aid agencies have not been able to confirm the safety of all their staff, a task complicated by overloaded phone networks. NGO sources say some aid workers have faced harassment and threats at roadblocks. US-based NGO International Medical Corps announced that its maternity wing at a camp for internally displaced persons in Juba took a direct hit in the latest fighting.

So far, aid agencies have not been directly targeted, with “crossfire” being the main risk, an NGO security analyst told IRIN.

Some aid agency compounds have become temporary shelters for civilians from the town, along with churches and other public spaces: WFP is hosting 3,000 displaced people at one of their compounds in Juba, a spokesperson told IRIN.

Today, chartered flights have resumed from Juba airport, eyewitnesses said, and some diplomats and expatriate aid agency staff are being pulled out. A military spokesman has said that the Ugandan army may be used to escort Ugandan nationals home by road, while Japan has mobilised military aircraft to the region to support the evacuation of its nationals.

Although the conflict has been intense, there may be a “desire not to evacuate” among humanitarian groups, according to the security analyst. The immediate needs of the wounded and displaced represent a critical humanitarian need, and lives are at risk, observers say.

“The humanitarian situation is grave and the needs are immense,” Matilda Moyo, a spokeswoman from the UN emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, told IRIN. As the airport was effectively closed until this morning, and the roads too risky, few aid workers have attempted to move until now. Planning has been around how to reduce staffing and mitigate the risks.

Moyo said “all [UN] organisations have been requested to prepare a list of non-essential staff for evacuation planning in the case that the security situation deteriorates any further”.

Source: Name News Network