Humanitarian Needs in South Sudanese States “overwhelming” amid Violence: Catholic Nun

Screengrab of Sr. Elena Balatti. Credit: Pax Christi International/Youtube

Humanitarian needs in South Sudan’s Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei States are “overwhelming” due to violent conflicts and general “unrest”, a Catholic Nun serving in the country’s Catholic Diocese of Malakal has said.

On Wednesday, September 7, fighting broke out near Adidiang, where thousands of displaced people had taken refuge, APnews reported. Meanwhile, fighting in and around the Upper Nile State town of Tonga has reportedly displaced thousands of people since mid-August.

In a Thursday, September 8 interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Elena Balatti, said the department of Integral Human Development (Caritas) in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese, which she coordinates is struggling to contain the influx of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) fleeing violence.

“The Humanitarian needs are overwhelming because there has been a lot of unrest this year in Unity and Upper Nile States and Northern part of Jonglei State,” Sr. Ballati, a member of the Comboni Missionary Sisters (CMS), said.

The Coordinator of Caritas Malakal added, “We have had an influx of people who fled the violence from the Adidiang camps when the IDP camp was attacked by the militia elements who killed people but we don’t know how many.”


“The IDPs are settling in many areas of the Diocese but the group I am talking about came from Panyikang county from the IDP camp that was attacked by the elements of the militia,” Sr. Balatti told ACI Africa September 8.

In a report published Tuesday, September 6, officials of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), say there were gross abuses of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Unity state. 

They note that the violations were committed during clashes between joint Government Forces and affiliated armed militias/groups on one hand, and elements of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO RM)) loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar, on the other.

In the September 8 interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Balatti said, “The current conflict is a mix of armed violence with political motivation and tribal enmities or grievances as a result of lack of understanding among people belonging to ethnic groups and the conflict of interest; unfortunately, some elements in each group decided to solve problems using violence.”

The Italian-born CMS member added in reference to the parties in conflict, “They don’t really solve the problems but instead increase human suffering because the human suffering we have seen these days is very huge in the Upper Nile.”

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“The challenge is very big and the church as Caritas Malakal offers small contributions through support of our partners like CAFOD, Trocaire and Caritas Austria to assist in this situation,” she said.

Sr. Balatti added that Caritas Malakal is also working with Catholic Parishes of the South Sudanese Diocese to “help with the little that will come from our partners but the political and peace building work at high level or the level of the government is not our role.”

We really pray that the government may intervene to look into the matter and see that action can be taken to solve these conflicts that are ongoing in Upper Nile and other areas,” the Director of Caritas Malakal told ACI Africa September 8.

The small contribution that the development and humanitarian arm of Malakal Diocese offers is “in the hope that peace and stability will allow citizens to devote themselves to the ordinary activities of life such as livelihoods, education, and any other activities that human beings are created for in order to live well in this world,” she said.

The CMS member who started her missionary service in Sudan in 1994 further said, “We don't believe that peace is something that we have to build in our world, even a little bit of justice is also needed.


“The Church is trying to welcome some of these people in our schools, and the government is also looking for a place where to settle them with some expected to go to the UNMISS compound but the POC is already overcrowded,” the Caritas official said in reference to IDPs in Malakal Diocese.

“The government, the church and the non-governmental organizations are trying to see where the IDPs can be accommodated,” she said, adding that apart from those displaced due to recent violent conflicts, there are those “displaced by the floods and by previous years of insecurity.”

“The issue of flooding is still a crucial element this year,” Sr. Ballati said, and added, “As Caritas Malakal we have to be committed to provide emergency relief for the people affected by the floods.”

He noted that there has been an “improvement in food security because the level of food insecurity experienced in the territory of the diocese last year in the three States plus Ruweng administrative area was high.”