UNOSAT helps keep track of IDPs amid South Sudan clashes

25 December 2013, Geneva, Switzerland - As the security and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan deteriorates, UNOSAT is analysing satellite imagery yielding complementary information on the situation of thousands of people displaced by the mounting violence, reinforcing the admonition by the UN Secretary-General to those responsible for the violence:  “They should know the world is watching.”

UNOSAT has initially turned its attention to the presence and movement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the vicinity of UN compounds. “We look for IDPs and signs of destruction of civilian infrastructure in urban areas affected by armed violence” says Lars Bromley of UNOSAT. The team is working on imagery purchased from vendors and additional commercial imagery received thanks to a long-standing collaboration with the Humanitarian Information Unit of the US State Department.

In at least one of the UNOSAT maps, IDPs are visible inside one of the UNMISS bases near Juba Airport. Another map shows how IDPs have chosen to locate their camp next to a UNMISS base in an attempt to seek protection from violence. UNOSAT Manager Einar Bjorgo says “We are also providing information and imagery to our UN colleagues in the Secretariat who are mandated to support UNMISS in the field. I have received a direct request from the UN Cartographic Section of the UN Department of Field Support and I am very pleased we can assist them”.

Earlier an UNMISS base in Akobo, in Jonglei state, was attacked by armed assailants who left some 20 civilians dead alongside two UN peacekeepers. The assailants were reported stealing weapons and ammunition from the base. On 24 December the UN Security Council responded to the situation adopting a resolution which calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and overall increased force levels of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Based on this decision the Mission would augment its military component up to 12,500 troops.

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Images: Civilians flow into a UNMISS base seeking shelter from violence (credit  UNMISS/H. Gebrekrstos). Below: a detail of one of UNOSAT analyses showing civilians moving inside a UNMISS compound on 20 December.