JUBA, South Sudan — Over 200,000 South Sudanese civilians are sheltering inside U.N. camps from civil war, the United Nations said Monday, a bleak barometer of ongoing conflict despite peace efforts. The figures, among the highest in over two years of civil war and similar to numbers recorded in August 2015 during some of the heaviest battles, come despite political efforts to implement a peace deal inked on paper six months ago. More than 201,000 civilians are crammed inside squalid camps in six towns across the country, including the capital Juba, according to the U.N. peacekeeping mission (UNMISS).
Over 122,000 are in the camp in Bentiu alone, a former key oil town in the northern Unity region where fighting has been concentrated. The continued rise in the number of people fleeing violence offers a clear indication that conditions continue to worsen in the poverty-stricken nation. In October, U.N.-backed experts warned of a “concrete risk of famine” in parts of Unity if fighting continues, with tens of thousands of people feared to be starving to death outside areas aid workers can reach. Some aid has been delivered, but civilians report dire conditions. Last week cease-fire monitors called on rival forces to allow food into conflict zones where aid workers have warned tens of thousands may be dying of starvation. Despite the August agreement fighting continues, and the conflict now involves multiple militia forces who pay little heed to paper peace deals, driven by local agendas or revenge attacks. The conflict has triggered a humanitarian crisis with 2.3 million people forced from their homes and 6.1 million — around half the population — in need of emergency food aid. Tens of thousands have died and the economy is in ruins. Civil war began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused sacked deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the country along ethnic lines.