New Internationalist

Four million in need of humanitarian assistance in South Sudan

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Shelter at a UN Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp in Juba. Oxfam East Africa under a Creative Commons Licence

More than a million people have fled their homes since fighting erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 between the government and rebels.

Civilians are fleeing atrocities committed by both sides. The UN Mission reports that people have been systematically targeted – facing execution, sexual torture, kidnapping and torching of their homes – and an estimated 10,000 have died.

Along with the protection of civilians, a new threat is looming: hunger is now one of our biggest challenges. The UN has predicted that current food shortages could develop into full-blown famine in the coming months if urgent humanitarian funding is not availed; fears are also mounting over the spread of disease.  

I have just returned from South Sudan, where the conflict rages on, despite repeated declarations of a truce. I was working with a local organization, the Universal Network for Knowledge and Empowerment Agency (UNKEA), a partner of Christian Aid, who operate in the Upper Nile, in the north east of the country.

Eastern states Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile are the worst affected by the conflict. Unlike many agencies who have left the area because of security concerns, UNKEA have moved with displaced people and are able provide them with essential supplies – food, sleeping mats, cooking utensils, water purification tablets, soap, mosquito nets and drugs to treat malaria and diarrhoea.

UNKEA has played a key role in keeping humanitarian aid flowing into the Upper Nile. Working with the local community, it has been able to repair a disused airstrip, allowing the UN and other agencies in Juba to do rapid assessments of peoples’ needs.

The problems extend beyond the east. South Sudan is experiencing a hunger gap across the board. The conflict has disrupted the planting season, forcing over a million people to flee their homes and land; harvests in the coming months will be limited.

An estimated four million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance.

The host communities – both at home and over the border in Ethiopia – are ill-equipped to cope with the refugees. The Upper Nile has limited educational facilities for locals, let alone the new arrivals. Teachers in opposition- controlled areas have not received salaries since the crisis began.

More than 1,000 people a day are crossing into Ethiopia to escape the fighting.

Some 392,800 people have now fled across the border for their safety and to seek out basic services such as health and education.

I met one young woman called Nyayop, who was displaced by fighting around Mathiang in Upper Nile, in the north east of the country.

Women and children figure disproportionately among the displaced. I heard stories that many of the men had either been killed or were away fighting. Nyayop arrived in Pinythor Payam, near the border with Ethiopia, with her own two children as well as two others who she had taken in after they were separated from their families during the fighting. She is now struggling to look after the four children with no means to feed them.

Transporting aid to Nyaypo and others like her will be a challenge. Pockets of fighting and different groups controlling swathes of the country, complicating the transportation of humanitarian supplies; to ensure safe passage we will often need to consult both sides before moving goods from one area to another. There is need to lobby for humanitarian access and safety of aid workers in the affected areas.

Then we have the weather to contend with.  There is only one main road from the capital Juba to the border with Uganda that is tarmacked. As the rainy season sets in, roads and airstrips have been flooded, cutting off huge areas.

Increasingly heavy rainfall over the coming months will exacerbate this. It will also bring an increased risk of malaria. A recent cholera outbreak in Juba is already spreading to other parts of the country.

Even before the current crisis, South Sudan was one of the least developed countries in the world. The six months of fighting has set back many gains the country had made since independence in 2011 marked the end of decades of civil war.

The level of need is growing.  The international community needs to act fast to get food and basic items such as cooking utensils, mosquito nets and secure access to clean water to the millions of people affected.

But we face a big funding shortfall in the humanitarian response. The Crisis Response Plan is requesting a total of US $1.8 billion. The lack of interest in the South Sudan crisis in the British media is frustrating, making it very difficult for aid agencies to raise the funds.

Rosie Crowther is an Emergency Programme Officer for Christian Aid.

Christian Aid has local partners on the ground that are able to access some of the worst affected areas but further funding is needed.

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