The Republic of South Sudan, the world's youngest state, is observing the fourth anniversary of its independence on Thursday. There is little cause for festivities.
For more than a year and half, since December 2013, the country has been engulfed in a civil war that has killed tens of thousands, turned more than 730,000 South Sudanese into refugees, and destroyed the goodwill that marked July 9 four years ago.
There have been at least seven tentative agreements to cease the fighting since last January, but each of them have been broken almost immediately by the army of President Salva Kiir and rebels led by Riek Machar, his former vice president. The two men, who fought together during the south's long war with Khartoum, are from different ethnic communities — Kiir a Dinka, Machar a Nuer — and the bloodshed has largely fallen along ethnic lines.
Rebel forces, like the government, have been accused of war crimes. Last April, opposition forces attacked the Unity State capital of Bentiu, where they executed hundreds of civilians. Rebels commandeered a local radio station, from which they broadcast messages exhorting their comrades to rape women from different ethnic groups. A nearby church was used as a "rape camp," for several months.
The UN mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, is now tasked with sheltering more than 150,000 South Sudanese — only about a tenth of those internally displaced — who have nowhere else to go. Originally established with an eye towards nation-building, the mission's peacekeepers are now overwhelmed, and can do little more than maintain their presence in the camps.
The UN estimates that 4.6 million people face severe food insecurity. In recent months, humanitarian access has been all but shut off in parts of the country that have seen the worst bloodshed.
Photos by Alessandro Rota
Mingkaman area in Lakes State. Cattle keepers are semi-nomadic people, and the war has restrained them from freely moving around the bush. Their cows have become an easy target for soldiers who seeks fresh meat. They cover themselves with ashes as a sign of beauty. More than 100,000 people fled to this area to escape the civil war. The majority of them escaped Bor, the capital of Jonglei State.
Bentiu city, capital of Unity State, the front line of the conflict. Some 60,000 people have fled to the protection of civilians sites (PoCs) inside of the UN base.
UNMISS passengers flying from Bentiu to Malakal Airport look outside the helicopter's window.
Aerial view of Bentiu's UN base.
Daily life at a market in PoC site two inside Bentiu's UN base. Prices have more than doubled compared to Juba or before the war.
Everyday activities at the World Food Program warehouse in Juba. More than 60 trucks, with a loading capacity of 45 metric tons each, pass daily through the gates of the facility in Juba. The network of roads are extremely unreliable, which increases the demand for funds and different ways to deliver the supplies. River transportation is is used but is also risky. Airdrops and air delivery are the only options when food has to be delivered to front line areas, but they are seven times more expensive than delivery by truck.
Mingkaman area in Lakes State. Food distribution at the World Food Program facility. Each person receives 15kg of cereal, 1.5kg of yellow split peas, 1lt. of oil, and 0.15kg of salt.
Mingkaman area. Achiek ayuen Nhial receives her monthly food allowance from the World Food Program, which her older son delivers.
Mingkaman area. Nyanwut Awet Aboric has four children. Her husband was killed last January while escaping Bor. She has great difficulty paying the fees to send her children to school, and feels that improvements need to be made to the shelter.
Mingkaman area. Ameaguor Naomi is from Bor and she will move back as soon as the fighting ends. She feels safe in the Mingkaman, but she left everything behind when she escaped.
Mingkaman area. Akuei Angung Nyok has three children. Her husband was killed last January while escaping Bor. She sometimes does not have enough food to feed the family. She hopes that her husband's brother, who is a soldier, will take care of her and the children when he returns from the conflict.
Mingkaman area. Achiek ayuen Nhial is from Bor and arrived at Mingkaman in December 2013. She has seven children and her whole family lives together. She endures chronic headaches. Improvements to her shelter are neccessary because it is too small for the entire family.
Daily life at PoC site four inside of UN base in Bentiu,
Bentiu area. The derelict fuselage of an airplane lies next to the UN airstrip with a watchtower in the background.
Bentiu area. A soldier's corpose lies near the main road that was once the city center.
Daily life at PoC site four inside Bentiu's UN base.
PoC site one inside of the UN base in Bentiu.
Mingkaman area in Lakes State. Cattle keepers.
Aerial view of abandoned settlements on the other bank of the river close to Malakal, capital city of upper Nile state.