Melut County, Upper Nile

General information

2016 population projection: 67,949

Major population centers: Melut, Paloich, Kaka

Major ethnic group: In 2012, the county’s ethnic structure was 90 percent Dinka, 3 percent Shilluk, 2 percent Nuer and 5 percent from other communities (UNDP). It is not clear how many of the minority groups remain after the sustained violence and displacement.

Displacement risk:

Medium to high risk of conflict related displacement.  Beginning in December 2013, OCHA reported Kaka town in Melut County as a displacement “hotspot” and the UNMISS base in Melut town become a Protection of Civilians (POC) site.   OCHA reported significant displacement from and to the county since December 2013.  Displaced people fled to the county from Malakal, Manyo, Panyikang, Fashoda and Baliet counties in Upper Nile and from Pigi County in Jonglei State.  As of March 2016, more than 303,000 people are displaced in Upper Nile State as a whole.  UNMISS reports that 700 people remain on its Melut base.

*National Bureau of Statistics, Population projections for South Sudan by County

* about this map

Economy & livelihoods

The county’s main economic activities include fishing, agriculture, charcoal making, gum production, and raising livestock.  Historically, pastoralism and agro pastoralism are the pillars of livelihood in the county.  People keep cattle and move them seasonally, according to the availability of pastures and water.  About 15 percent of Melut households are farmers (FAO 2016), and the main crops grown are millet and sorghum.  Melut is one of the few counties in the country where (rain fed) mechanized cereal (or, sorghum) production has been practiced on a large scale.  Prior to independence, the main market for surplus grains was Sudan; however, fighting in the border areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile saw a reorientation in Upper Nile State towards Juba and southern markets. 

Since the 2013 conflict, both agriculture and trade have suffered from lack of equipment, displacement, and insecurity.  National cattle movements have been significantly disrupted by the violence, with large scale and long distance displacement of livestock from the conflict affected states.  Abnormal livestock movements into Melut County have stressed natural resources and contributed to the outbreak of livestock disease in the area (FAO Dec 2014).  Pastoralist groups throughout Upper Nile State report significant decreases in their livestock populations.

Melut County includes the Paloich oil field.  Currently the only productive field in South Sudan, it is the last source of meaningful income for the country and thus one of the most heavily defended places in the country.  In May 2015, Oloyni and his Agwelek Forces began marching towards Paloich.  The mainly international workers were evacuated and only a skeleton staff remained by the time the SPLA’s 1st Division halted Oloyni’s advance.  The oil industry is one of the few formal economic sectors in South Sudan, but it does not require a lot of manpower.  The Petrodar Operating Company’s (PDOC) workforce mostly consists of Sudanese and Asian (mainly from China, India, and Malaysia) employees.

IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016

Food security for the Melut County has alternated between “stressed” and “crisis” since the onset of violence in December 2013. For January through March 2016, the IPC projected food security in the county would be at “crisis” levels.

Historical context

Dominant Control during conflict:  SPLA/M and supporting militias (mainly Padang Dinka), though challenged by SPLA IO (initially) and then Shilluk militias (currently).

Currently, forces aligned with the government control the east bank of the White Nile, including Melut County and thus the country’s sole productive oil field, Paloich.  The west bank remains largely under the control of Shilluk forces, including Oloyni’s Agwelek Forces and Johannes Okiech’s Tiger Faction New Forces (TFNF).  

Alliances between groups and the government are dynamic and shifting.  Okiech was formerly a leading Shilluk SPLA commander in Upper Nile State and, initially, Shilluk militias in the area helped the SPLA drive the SPLA IO out of southern and northern Upper Nile State.  The South Sudanese government had faced a military crisis in Upper Nile State at the start of the conflict.  Almost all SPLA fighters in the area at the time were Nuer, and most of them immediately defected to the SPLA–IO.  Other than the loyalist 1st Division in Renk, the government was forced to largely rebuild its military presence in the state.  It sent recruits from elsewhere in South Sudan to the State but increasingly also relied on local ethnic militias.  The first such militia force was the oil defense force of the Abialang Dinka of Renk county, created in 2014 specifically to guarantee control of Paloich.  All of the militias operate outside of the SPLA’s formal military command structure, but receive military aid and often act in concert.  Throughout 2014 and 2015, the State saw some of the most intense fighting of the civil war. 

Following the defeat of the SPLA–IO in the area in 2015, underlying antagonism between Padang Dinka and Shilluk communities and their militias re emerged.  Throughout March 2015, Padang militias burnt Shilluk settlements, killed Shilluk civilians, and attacked the Agwelek forces of Johnson Olonyi.  In May 2015, Olonyi and the Agweleks defected from the government, citing SPLA alignment with Padang Dinka forces.  Olonyi’s forces took control of Malakal town, Melut town, and Magok – and began marching towards Paloich – before the SPLA 1st Division halted their advance.  In October 2015, Okiech also defected from the SPLA and created the Tiger Faction New Forces (TFNF).  Okiech specifically admonished President Kiir’s 28 states decree, which Okiech claimed amounted to a Dinka land grab of Shilluk territory.  The tripartite division of Upper Nile State comes after — and is consistent with — a decade of political attempts to consolidate power along the White Nile River.  Since 2005, Dinka and Shilluk communities have contested areas throughout the state, frequently with reference to distant historical claims.

About the map *

This map follows the administrative county boundaries 2005-2015. Our aim is to identify key geographic, demographic and historical features of the area, rather than political/administrative issues. In doing so, SSHP expresses no view on the development of the 28 state policy

Geography & logistics


Bimachuk, Galdora, Melut, Paloich, Panhomdit, Wunamum

Geographical features

Melut is located in the center of Upper Nile State.  The White Nile flows alongside Melut’s western border with Manyo County.  Additionally Melut borders Renk, Maban, Baliet, Akoka and Fashoda Counties.  The River Adar also flows across Melut to feed into the White Nile.


Main roads

Several main roads intersect at Paloich, connecting the town to Melut, Malakal, Renk, Maban, Malwut, and Nasser.  Accounting only for the “physical condition of the roads,” the logistics cluster has not issued a warning for any of the Melut roads during the recent conflict.  (The cluster’s updates do not address access issues related to the political situation or security issues.)  In addition, the White Nile flows along Melut’s western boarder and is an important source of riverine transport to Malakal and Sudan.

All season fixed-wing airstrips



Information last updated: 26/08/16

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