Ulang County, Upper Nile

General information

2016 population projection: 62,294

Major population centers: Ulang Town

Major ethnic group: Primarily Jikany Nuer

Displacement risk:

Medium risk of displacement.  Ulang County has received significant numbers of displaced persons throughout the length of the recent conflict, and served as transit point for refugees headed towards Ethiopia.  By March 2014, IRNA reported more than 35,000 IDPs registered in Ulang County.  Most early IDPs were Nuers fleeing fighting in Malakal.  Fighting in Ulang County and neighboring Nasir displaced local populations repeatedly throughout 2014 and 2015.  IRNA reported that, in general, IDP movements were localized, mainly involving those living on the more volatile north side of the Sobat River (including Ulang town) fleeing south.  Many displaced people also reportedly crossed into Ethiopia.  Ulang town was particularly affected as it lies on the road between the strategically important towns of Malakal and Nasir.

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

* about this map

Economy & livelihoods

The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) has alternatively classified Ulang County as part of the  “Nile Sobat Rivers” Livelihood Zone (Sept 2013) and the “Northeastern maize and cattle” Livelihood Zone (Aug 2013).  In both cases, the primary livelihood in the area is agriculture, supplemented by rearing livestock, fishing and gathering.  The main crops are maize and sorghum, as well as pumpkin, cowpeas, sesame, and garden vegetables.  Better off households keep cattle, goats and sheep.  Fishing from the Sobat River is seasonal, taking place primarily in the swamps towards the end of the rainy season and into the dry season.  The main local market is in Ulang town, and other nearby markets include Malakal, Akoka and Panyikang towns.  The main roads are seasonal and market access can be difficult during the rainy season. 

In 2013, FEWS NET reported low food insecurity in the region given the diversified sources of livelihood.  The principle livelihood hazards are crop pests, livestock disease and flooding.  The County also periodically suffered intercommunal fighting due to the region’s cattle raiding practices and increased tensions during seasonal migrations of pastoralists and cattle through the area (UNDP 2012).  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.  FAO reported abnormal livestock movements through the County throughout 2014 and 2015.

IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016

The IPC projected “crisis” levels of food insecurity for Ulang County for the period January through March 2016. It reported consistent crisis levels for the county throughout the conflict, except for April through July 2015 during which Ulang’s reported food insecurity reached “emergency” levels. Surrounding counties in Upper Nile and Jonglei States were periodically reported to be one classification more food insecurity compared to Ulang County, assumedly due to more direct fighting in those areas.

Historical context

Dominant Control during conflict:  SPLA/M IO, with SPLA largely controlling northern Ulang County, close to Nasir town. 

Part of the Upper Nile State’s largely Nuer south, Ulang County’s population aligned with the SPLA IO.  Fighting between the SPLA and SPLA IO throughout southern Upper Nile State was one of the principle theatres of violence in the country.  During the first four months of the civil war, neighboring Nasir County was the wellspring for SPLA IO recruitment of so called ‘white army’ forces, Nuer militias originally created to defend local communities.  By May 2014, however, the SPLA had seized control of Nasir town, and it has maintained (periodically contested) control ever since.  The army’s relationship with the surrounding population throughout southern Upper Nile State, however, is turbulent and often violent.  The SPLA largely sees itself (and is perceived by locals) as an occupying force in the area.  It responds to attacks from local armed Nuer groups aggressively, burning down settlements, and perpetuating violent altercations.

SPLA and SPLA IO positions in the southern Upper Nile have remained relatively stable since August 2015.  The SPLA IO largely controls the south (especially rural areas), but the SPLA is entrenched in Nasir town, northern Ulang County, and several other towns in the region.  Further detailed information about the Ulang context in particular is not available, at the time of writing. 

President Kiir’s October 28 states decree creates a new state, Latjor, out of the majority Nuer counties, including Ulang, Nasir, Maiwut, Nasir, and Longochuk.  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.

Throughout early 2016, both the SPLA and SPLA IO accused the other of violating the August 2015 ceasefire agreement, including March 2016 reports of fighting in Ulang and Nasir Counties.  In mid April 2016, populations fled Ulang town again after reports of fighting between Lou and Jikany Neur in the western outskirts of the town.  After the incident the SPLA IO reported that it had sent soldiers to the town to maintain peace and order.

Prior to the start of the civil war in December 2013, Ulang received IDPs fleeing violence in nearby Pibor County.  Throughout 2012 and 2013, the government was fighting a rebellion led by Murle David Yau Yau.

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


Doma, Kurmuot, Ulang, Yomding

Geographical features

Lowland area, characterized by grasslands, forests and swamps and susceptible to flooding.  The River Sobat flows east to west along the length of Ulang County, forming part of the county’s southeastern border with Ethiopia and northwestern border with Nyirol County.

Main roads

The County’s one main road runs through the northern portion of the county, connecting Nasir town to the east to Bailet and Malakal towns to the west. From April to May 2016, the logistic cluster cautioned that the Nasir Baliet portion of the route was “passable with warning.”  The warning refers only to the physical conditions of the road.  Logistic cluster designations do not reflect “the political situation or security issues.”

All season fixed-wing airstrips



Information last updated: 26/08/16

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