Civians UN base Bor
Civilians crowd into the UN base at Bor

The horror of the inter-tribal atrocities in South Sudan continues – little commented on, with world attention focused on Ukraine, Syria and the Central African Republic. But just once in a while a statement is really shocking – even for those who follow the story.

Yesterday a well-placed source, who cannot be named, told a truly horrifying tale. It was of how United Nations locally recruited staff had to lock themselves into a bunker on a UN base to prevent other local UN staff from murdering them. These were people who had worked together for years and stuck together through thick and thin. Yet when the going got really tough the tribal killings effected everyone and the UN staff were no exception.

The situation is – according to those who know – even more shocking than in Darfur, which is saying a great deal.

Less space than Nelson Mandela’s cell

There are now 75,000 South Sudanese sheltering inside UN bases. Tribal tensions mean they have to be segregated, or the anger will boil over. Hardly surprising given the scale of the killings. Those inside the bases have just 6 square metres per person. ‘Less than Nelson Mandela had in his cell on Robben Island’ as one source put it. The dangers of cholera and other diseases inside the UN compounds is clear.

Worse could lie ahead

There are now warnings of famine – not a word the UN uses lightly. The rains are due to begin at the end of March. Fields need to be prepared for planting. But with 900,000 having fled their homes many families cannot do this – especially if they (like 145,000 others) have sought sanctuary in neighbouring countries.

To try to prepare for the worst the World Food Programme is attempting to bring in 146,000 tonnes of food. This has to be done before the rains make the roads impassable. But many routes are too unsafe to navigate – even for the hardy Somali drivers who make many of the deliveries. Famine is now a tragedy hanging over the shattered communities of South Sudan.