Leer County, Unity
2016 population projection: 76,373
Major population centers: Leer, Thonyor and Adok towns
Major ethnic group: Nuer (Nuer Adok clan)
The County has seen major displacement as a direct result of fighting, though verification and comprehensive data has been difficult to obtain owing to the area’s insecurity. Almost all of Leer’s population fled into the bush in the early months of 2014. Humanitarian agencies believe the County was hosting some 67,850 IDPs by December 2015. A significant number of Leer residents also sought refuge at the Bentiu UNMISS base, as well as fleeing towards Panyijiar.
Economy & livelihoods
In a 2013 IOM survey, residents responded that their main livelihood activities were farming (35 percent), livestock (34 percent) and fishing (29 percent). The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) reports that residents in this region rely chiefly on goat rearing and sorghum production for their livelihoods. In addition, households also raise cattle and sheep and cultivate other crops such as maize, okra, pumpkin and cowpeas. Farming takes place on a subsistence level and less well off households purchase about five and a half months of their staple cereals from the market. Sale of charcoal, firewood, grass and casual labor are also common means of livelihood.
Leer is an oil producing county in Unity State. Its main oil field, Thar Jath (which also straddles part of Mayendit) began production in late 2006. By 2013 the field was producing up to 10,000 barrels of oil per day, according to the South Sudanese government. However many locals say they have not seen the financial benefits of this oil wealth. Likely owing to the importance of oil to the national economy, the area is heavily militarized and there is a large SPLA base in Thar Jath.
IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016
Leer County is classified as “Emergency” for this time period. According to the Annual Needs and Livelihood Analysis 2014 2015** report, the County had a deficit of 11,061 tons of cereal in 2015. By November 2015 the IPC concluded there was “overwhelming evidence of a humanitarian emergency” in Leer County (as well as Mayendit, Guit and Koch counties). However, while the situation improved slightly in the other counties, approximately 5,000 people hiding in the swamps of Leer were classified as being in a food security “Catastrophe” in April 2016 by the IPC. Conflict related insecurity was the main cause of food insecurity. The estimated 5,000 individuals, for example, had no access to humanitarian aid.
**A collaborative effort by the Republic of South Sudan, UN agencies and development partners
Dominant Control during conflict: SPLA IO
Leer has been on the most conflict affected counties in the country and has seen not only significant fighting between government and opposition forces but also particularly egregious human rights violations.
Opposition forces initially controlled Leer Town, the administrative center, in the first few weeks of the outbreak of fighting in December 2013, but were defeated and driven out by an SPLA attack in late January 2014. The Opposition were unable to retake Leer Town despite attempts in March 2014, but maintained a presence in the County and skirmishes with government forces continued.
By April 2015, southern counties including Leer had fallen firmly into the control of the SPLA IO overall. To counter this, the SPLA swept southwards from Bentiu through these Opposition controlled counties beginning in April 2015 and seized control of much of Leer County in May. As elsewhere, Opposition forces opted to withdraw into the bush instead of directly engaging, and rapidly re took their positions in Leer County by the end of June 2015, after government forces left. Fighting continued into the fall, with the Opposition managing to briefly re take Leer Town in September, before being driven out. By the end of the year, the main towns and roads of the county fell under SPLA control. However, reports of skirmishes between the Government and Opposition, with civilian casualties, continued as of June 2016. Landmines and explosive remnants of war were reportedly left in Leer (as well as Mayom, Bentiu, Pariang and Abiemnhom), which UN Mine Action is in the process of identifying and clearing, as of a February 2016 update.
The County has seen major displacement as a direct result of fighting, though verification and comprehensive data has been difficult to obtain owing to the area’s insecurity. As the conflict unfolded, almost all of the County’s population fled into the bush in the early months of 2014.Many Leer residents also sought refuge at the Bentiu UNMISS base, often making the roughly 120km journey by foot. By December 2014 approximately 20 percent of site’s IDPs were from Leer (8,831 individuals). Others made their way to the County’s eastern port of Adok, on the River Nile, where they took canoes or homemade rafts across the river to Jonglei State and south to Panijiar County. Leer also received IDPs from neighbouring counties during the fighting, with approximately 40,000 IDPs fleeing to Leer following fighting in January 2014. Humanitarian agencies believe the County was hosting some 67,850 IDPs by December 2015. It is unclear how many displaced people have returned from hiding. As of March 2016 Médecins Sans Frontières said that Leer Town was still mostly deserted and civilians still live in fear of armed violence.
Both main warring parties have been accused of committing serious human rights violations during their operations in Unity, with some of the most egregious attacks reportedly having taken place in Leer. The UN determined through satellite imagery, for example, that the SPLA burned down 1,556 residential structures during their attack on Leer Town in February 2014. Most of the town had also been destroyed, including the hospital. According to a UN report, between April and September 2015, an estimated 1,000 civilians were killed, 1,300 women and girls were raped and 1,600 women and children were abducted in Leer, Mayendit and Koch counties alone. Those estimates are believed to be significantly lower than actual figures. Verification of incidents is difficult because Leer (and other southern Unity counties) was cut off to humanitarian agencies for months at a time, due to fighting. Humanitarian agencies were forced to evacuate from Leer County in May 2015 due to conflict and only able to return beginning in December 2015.
Geography & logistics
Adok, Bou, Leer, Guat, Juong Kang, Padeah, Pilieny, Yang
Leer falls under the Nile Sobat livelihood zone which is characterized by heavy black cotton soils, rolling landscape and plentiful water resources. The land tends to take on swampy characteristics during the rainy season. Flooding often makes parts of Leer County inaccessible (such as Guat payam), and also disrupts agriculture though the soil is favourable for agriculture. The County’s eastern edge, bordered by the River Supiri, is particularly prone to flooding.
Leer has a single primary road running roughly in an L shape across the region, connecting Leer to the main Unity State trunk road at its west (connecting Lakes and Central Equatoria to Unity State) and Adok port on the Nile, on the border with Ayod County, Jonglei State, to its east. The Leer Town Adok road is accessible to all vehicles but from Leer to Pilling the road is only passable in the dry season. The road in Leer Town itself is not in good condition and is only passable in the rainy season after three dry days, according to a 2012 Logistics Cluster road assessment. The two bridges between Pilling and Adok are steel with maximum capacities of 40 metric tons each.
All season fixed-wing airstrips
Information last updated: 26/08/16
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