Wau County, Western Bahr El Ghazal
2016 population projection: 207,275
Major population centers: Wau (state capital)
Major ethnic group: Mix of Balanda Bagari, Jur Chol and Fertit peoples
There has been significant displacement in the County due to continued insecurity. By June 2016, the IOM estimated there were 101,955 IDPs in Wau County. The violence that erupted in Wau Town in late June led to a significant increase in displacement. The IOM estimated 19,700 people sought shelter at the UNMISS base, and a further 69,200 were displaced elsewhere, including an estimated 35,000 who fled into the bush.
Economy & livelihoods
The majority of households relied on farming (57 percent) as their main livelihood activity, with others engaging in livestock rearing (19 percent) and fishing (24 percent), according to a 2013 IOM survey. The most popular crops are cassava and sorghum, closely followed by groundnut. Vegetables, sesame, and maize are also cultivated to lesser degrees.
Poorer households cultivated by hand tills while families who were better off used animal traction, according to a 2013 report by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). Each household cultivated an average of 0.6 hectares. Unlike other regions of South Sudan, cattle herding is not a significant livelihood activity in the state, though families keep small numbers of mainly goats and poultry for household consumption. Conflict between local farming communities and armed cattle herders has been a persistent source of insecurity. Reportedly herds from neighboring states tend to move into southern Wau County for grazing, destroying local farmland in the process. Collecting wild honey, shea butter nuts and thatching grass are also ways through which some residents supplement their income. Lack of equipment prevents some from profiting from forestry resources (timber and mahogany, for example) which is available in some parts of the County. During the dry season, residents have access to wild food sources such as mangoes, shea butter nut and honey.
The main market in Wau Town is called Suk Jou. Like other major market Towns in the north, Wau was heavily dependent on supplies imported from Sudan’s South and North Kordofan, South Darfur and even Khartoum. Goods from Sudan also travel onwards to Juba via Wau (and Aweil and Rumbek). According to a 2015 WFP assessment, Wau market was still functioning despite the national conflict. Though the rainy season created logistical difficulties, the Town was “well connected” to supply routes to Sudan and Uganda, which had largely not been disrupted by fighting. Up to 70 percent of total goods came from Sudan at the time of assessment, including wheat flour (reportedly a preferred food in the area), sorghum and sugar. There were an estimated three large importers, 150 wholesalers and 600 other traders in Town – reportedly unchanged from the pre conflict period. One unique local product available at the market is groundnut (cooking) oil.
IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016
The County is classified as “Stressed” for this time period. According to the Annual Needs and Livelihood Analysis 2014 2015** report, the County’s food security outlook had improved over the reporting period. It had a surplus of 9,457 tons of cereal in 2015. Western Bahr el Ghazal state was the only state where every County produced a surplus of cereal for the reporting period.
**A collaborative effort by the Republic of South Sudan, UN agencies and development partners
Western Bahr el Ghazal has not been a frontline of conflict between the two main warring parties, however the state and Wau County has experienced some desertions, skirmishes between Government and Opposition forces, and clashes between Government and militia groups allegedly with links to the Opposition. Furthermore, since December 2015 tensions between the Government and ethnic Fertit militia groups in the region have escalated into conflict, leading to significant displacement of civilians.
There has been no major fighting between Government and Opposition forces in the County. In April 2014, a group of SPLA fighters defected to join the SPLM/A IO, including four generals. The defectors said they were defecting because they had been targeted based on their ethnicity, and also referenced the alleged Mapel massacre in comments to media (see Jur River County profile for details). Government authorities accused the defectors of attacking the airport. Nearly two months later there were minor clashes between Government and Opposition fighters near Baggari, but the County was largely quiet for the remainder of the year. Defections from the SPLA reportedly continued into 2015, with some defectors apparently turning to armed banditry along major highways.
Limited scale fighting between government forces and various militia groups (some accused of having links to the Opposition) has also been a source of insecurity in Wau County. Notably in May 2015, armed groups reportedly attacked Bazia payam, killed two people, looted homes and abducted six individuals. Up to 17 Government soldiers were killed as they pursued the attackers. The county commissioner blamed the attack on local youth groups, and also alleged that they received support from Sudan and the SPLM/A IO, but this was not independently confirmed. The County saw an upsurge in violence in November 2015 as major fighting took place in Farajallah and Mboro between Government and militia forces. The SPLA launched air strikes and sent ground reinforcements to Wau from Juba and neighboring states. Government soldiers reportedly looted and burnt homes, but humanitarian access was limited in the area, making verification difficult.
A new dimension of conflict emerged in early 2016 as tensions between mostly Dinka SPLA soldiers and Fertit civilians appeared to increase. Since December 2015, the newly deployed SPLA forces have been accused of targeting civilians and committing human rights violations in the course of their campaign to drive out ethnic Fertit militia groups, accused of attacks against civilians themselves. For example, in February 2016 Government forces were accused of beating and shooting civilians as well as burning an estimated 1,500 homes in Wau Town. Eleven people were reportedly killed and 25 injured.
On June 24, 2016 fighting between the SPLA and unknown armed groups erupted in Wau, which led to at least 40 deaths according to initial reports. The following day President Kiir removed the Governor of Wau, who was later arrested. The cause of the fighting is yet unclear.
The aforementioned phases of insecurity have led to waves of displacement in the civilian population since 2013. For example, roughly 5,000 IDPs fled Besseilia payam or Mboro village in January 2015 due to insecurity, but were forced to flee again in early 2016 as unknown armed groups attacked the village. IDPs also arrived in Wau. The UNMISS Protection of Civilian site at Wau was created in April 2014 as the first group of around 800 IDPs arrived. It saw relatively limited numbers (e.g. 232 IDPs as of September 2015) until the upsurge in violence beginning in November 2015. The violence that erupted in Wau in late June led to a significant wave of displacement. The IOM estimated 19,700 people sought shelter at the UNMISS base, and a further 69,200 were displaced elsewhere, including an estimated 35,000 who fled into the bush.
Wau is home to the University of Bahr El Ghazal, one of five public universities in the country, which offers degrees including in education, economics and medicine.
Geography & logistics
Bagari, Besselia, Kpaile, Wau North, Wau South
The entire state falls under the Ironstone Plateau livelihood zone, which is characterized by open savannah woodlands. Vegetation is a mixture of grasslands and forest, including mahogany and bamboo trees. The sandy, clay soil is considered moderately fertile and supports production of a variety of crops. Several rivers run through the County including the rivers Pongo, Getti, Busseri and Sue.
State capital Wau has several primary road connections to regional Towns of importance, including Aweil (Northern Bahr el Ghazal State), Kuajok and Tonj (Warrap State), and Tambura (Western Equatoria State). All these roads are passable in all seasons by all vehicles. The road from Kuajok to Wau, and Tonj to Wau are gravel and in relatively good condition, according to a 2013 Logistics Cluster survey. Wau also connects to neighbouring Raga County’s Deim Zubeir Town, with the same road conditions.
All season fixed-wing airstrips
Information last updated: 26/08/16
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