Last week South Sudan’s largest state of Jonglei was again wracked by violence.

On 18 August, thousands of young men from the Murle tribe, armed with assault rifles, launched an attack on communities from the neighbouring Lou Nuer tribe, deep in the remote northern part of the state. The men first struck the village of Pieri, and moved quickly westwards, scorching a swathe through villages across 150 square kilometres. In their rage they abducted hundreds of children, torched thousands of homes and stole tens of thousands of cattle, the life-blood of the Lou Nuer.

When the dust had settled and the blood had dried, more than 640 people had been killed, with 750 wounded.

As one of the least developed states in South Sudan, Jonglei has long been marred by conflict. Life for many is precarious, burdened with crushing poverty, tormented by the threat of cattle raids and newly formed rebel groups. Add to this a ready supply of weapons and young men without work. The mixture is highly combustible.

So volatile in fact, that prior to this recent incident, over a thousand people had been killed in dozens of clashes between the Lou-Nuer and Murle communities this year alone. The August attack had simply been the latest in a surge of retaliatory violence that is not looking to diminish anytime soon.

This time, the response was immediate, but not sufficient.

Humanitarian agencies, despite having been caught up in the carnage, tended to the wounded, distributed food supplies and provided emergency shelter. Searches for the missing children were launched. An inter-agency assessment team, led by the South Sudan Government, was dispatched four days after the violence had ended. They resolved to deploy more troops to the area, establish reconciliation processes and improve local infrastructure.

Such promises restore confidence and stability if they are fulfilled. Failure or inaction however can do more harm than good. If for instance, troops are deployed without sufficient equipment or provisions, forcing them to plunder local communities (as is not uncommon), then the public is further traumatised. If peace processes rehash old tensions or yield few outcomes then the initiative is lost. If it takes years to construct new roads or dredge blocked rivers, then government credibility is damaged.

Violent incidents such as these reinforce the need for rapid, concerted stabilisation efforts, which tackle the immediate situation while building local resilience and laying the foundation for longer-term recovery. They must be ably led by the Government and its security forces, and supported by the international community.

For instance, at precisely this moment in Jonglei, a raft of integrated stabilisation initiatives should be underway; shoring up the capacity of the local police, supporting local citizens to voice their grievances, enabling officials to access remote areas, communicate with their people and visibly lead in recovery efforts. Homes destroyed in the fighting could be rebuilt with well run employment schemes, offering new skills and possibilities to youth who otherwise know only cattle and raiding. Restoring water-points, markets and local services could be a fulcrum for not only addressing immediate needs, but for including women, young people and traditional leaders in determining how to mitigate tensions and avoid future conflict.

Except this time, the response will be limited – at best. Humanitarian organisations are performing heroically, yet their scope is narrow. Government agencies suffer acutely from a lack of just about everything; skills, funds and supplies. International organisations are hampered by cumbersome procurement systems, inflexible funding mechanisms and programmes that take time to deliver.

There is no doubt that South Sudan is a uniquely challenging environment, from just about any perspective you care to take. Yet this recent attack in Jonglei brings renewed urgency to the quest for new approaches to establish much needed stability for the region.