Nasir County, Upper Nile

General information

2016 population projection: 290,451

Major population centers: Nasir town

Major ethnic group: Nuer Jikany

Displacement risk:

Medium to high risk of displacement.  OCHA reported that Nasir town was a displacement “hotspot” at the start of the conflict in December 2013.  In early 2014, Nasir and Ulang Counties were major destination locations for Nuer population displaced from Malakal.  By January 2014, more than 15,000 displaced persons had fled to Nasir town.   When the SPLA gained control of the town in May 2014, tens of thousands were (further) displaced, leaving several payams – including Nasir and Roam – reportedly deserted (IRNA).  An estimated 20,000 people crossed the border into Ethiopia (OCHA).  As of March 2016, more than 280,000 South Sudanese had fled to Ethiopia, and more than 300,000 were displaced in Upper Nile State as a whole.

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

* about this map

Economy & livelihoods

Part of the Eastern Flood Plains and the Sobat River basin, Nasir County is an agro pastoral area.  The main livelihood activities are farming (60 percent, FAO 2016), raising livestock, and fishing.  Unlike most other areas in South Sudan, the staple cereal in Nasir and neighboring counties is maize.  Other crops grown include sorghum, cowpeas, pumpkins, and okra.  The main livestock reared are cattle, goats, and chickens.  Households supplement livelihoods by selling charcoal, firewood and grass, collecting wild food, and fishing.  Fishing from the River Sobat and its ponds and tributaries is seasonal.  Normal flooding of the river provides excellent pasture during the dry season above Nasir County.  Pastoralists from Sudan traditionally migrate seasonally into Nasir County, in search of water and pasture.  In 2013, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network reported that the area had a low risk of food insecurity because of the diversified sources of livelihood.  Trade is primarily oriented towards markets in Nasir, Malakal, and Juba, though the county also has access to markets in Ethiopia (namely, Gambella). 

As in other areas of South Sudan the major hazards are from floods, drought, bird and pest damage to crops and inter communal conflict.   The violence that erupted in December 2013 severely disrupted the normal farming cycle, migratory patterns and trade routes, displaced persons, and generally imperiled livelihoods in the area.  IN 2014, IRNA reported that foreign traders (Sudanese, Ethiopian and Ugandan) had left the area and that people were travelling long distances to Ethiopia to procure cereals, sold at inflated prices.  IPC reports of food insecurity for the county in recent years alternated between “crisis” and “emergency” levels, justified with reference to the insecurity that prevented or ruined harvests and to non functioning markets (March 2015).  In 2014, FAO reported abnormal cattle movements through the county east into Ethiopia.  In 2015, it reported the return of many traditional migrations from Sudan into Upper Nile; however abnormal movements within and east out of Nasir County also continued.

IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016

The IPC projected “crisis” levels of food insecurity for Nasir County for the period January through March 2016. Throughout the conflict, the IPC reports of food insecurity in the county have alternated between “crisis” and “emergency levels.” It reported “emergency” levels for January through May 2014, April 2015, and August through September 2015.

Historical context

Dominant Control during conflict:  SPLA/M IO and “white army” initially.  The SPLA IO retains control in most (rural) parts of Nasir County, but the SPLA has controlled Nasir town since May 2014. 

During the initial months of the civil war, Nasir was the wellspring for SPLA IO recruitment of the so called “white army” forces, the Nuer militias mobilized to defend local communities.  Nasir town is a strategically important port for Sobat riverine traffic, which eventually flows into the White Nile.  The town is also symbolically important for the SPLA IO as it was where Riek Machar announced his 1991 split from the SPLA and formed the SPLA Nasir faction.  

In May 2014, the SPLA seized control of Nasir town and has maintained that control since.  The SPLA IO, however, is supported by the local population, which largely views the SPLA as an occupation force.  Throughout 2014 and 2015, the SPLA IO shelled SPLA positions and launched occasional ground assaults from its positions on the other side of the Sobat River and the surrounding countryside.   Beginning in March 2016, the SPLA launched a number of sorties from Nasir on SPLA IO forces, as part of a campaign to take Maiwut and Longochuk Counties, and to cut SPLA IO routes to Pagak and to rear bases in Ethiopia.  The SPLA IO did not have sufficient forces in southern Upper Nile to significantly challenge the SPLA during the dry season.  However, given the local population’s hostility towards government forces (only exacerbated by the army’s strategy of razing villages), it proved extremely difficult for the SPLA to actually hold the southern counties of Longochuk, Nasir, Maiwut, and Ulang.   

The violence between the army and the local population creates challenges for UNMISS troops stationed in Nasir.  UNMISS has occasionally allowed civilians (less than 100) to shelter on its base.  The SPLA has fired on the base and accused UNMISS of sheltering rebels.

Since August 2015, SPLA and SPLA IO positions in southern Upper Nile have remained relatively stable.  The SPLA IO largely controls the Nasir, Ulang, Longochuk, and Maiwut Counties (especially rural areas), but the SPLA is entrenched in Nasir town and several other towns in the region.  More detailed information on exact locations is not available at the time of writing. The area was mostly quiet for early 2016, except for March 2016 clashes between the SPLA and SPLA IO in Nasir. 

President Kiir’s October 28 states decree creates a new state, Latjor, out of the majority Nuer counties, including Nasir County.  The demarcation follows a more general pattern wherein South Sudan’s Nuer communities are separated out from other groups and given their own mono ethnic states.  While the proposed configuration of states on the one hand accedes to demands for greater federalism, it also cuts off the Nuer community from any of the oil reserves in Upper Nile State.

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


Dingkar, Jikmir, Kiech, Kuerenge Ke, Mading, Maker, Nasir, Roam

Geographical features

Nasir County borders Ethiopia to the southeast, Maiwut County to the east, and Baliet and Ulang Counties to the west.  The Rivers Pibor and Baro intersect at the county’s southern border and flow into the River Sobat, which flows past Nasir town.  All three rivers serve as major riverine transportation routes.  The River Sobat flows past Nasir town.  The bulk of the county is characterized by seasonal lakes and marshlands.  The entire Sobat Basin is flood prone during the rainy season but provides excellent pasture during the dry season.

Main roads

A series of major and secondary roads run along the River Sobat, connecting Nasir town to Ethiopia in the east and to Malakal (through Baliet) in the west.  From April to May 2016, the logistic cluster cautioned that the Nasir Baliet portion of the route was “passable with warning,” in terms of the physical conditions of the road.  A secondary north south route intersects at Nasir, heading south along the Pibor River to Akobo, and north to Paloich and Melut.

All season fixed-wing airstrips



Information last updated: 26/08/16

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