Eugene Owusu, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan said that the ongoing fighting in some parts of this country continues to compound an already dire humanitarian situation.
According to the Humanitarian Response Plan, released at the beginning of the year, 7.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. New clashes since the beginning of 2017 have sadly uprooted tens of thousands of people from their homes. Civilians continue to be killed and are subjected to horrendous violations including sexual violence.
An estimated 3.5 million people have now been displaced, including 1.9 million people who are internally displaced, and 1.6 million who have fled as refugees to neighbouring countries.
Recent numbers indicate that close to one million people have fled to Uganda. Women, girls and children have taken the largest toll from this crisis. Women, sadly, are at an extremely high risk of being sexually assaulted or raped.
A recent survey revealed that cases of sexual assault and gender based violence increased by 64% in 2016 compared to the previous year. Against a backdrop of prevailing impunity, a major fear for women and children in this country is, sadly, the fear of being raped.
Over the past week, as a direct result of the upsurge of violence in Wau, some 17,000 people have taken refuge at the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Wau town, bringing the total number of civilians seeking protection in that site to some 42,000 people.
In Central Equatoria, since the beginning of 2017, conflict has caused massive displacements from Kajo-Keiji and elsewhere in the region. In Upper Nile, clashes on the West Bank in late January and February forced some 30,000 people to flee Wau Shilluk and the surrounding areas while thousands of civilians in Unity continue to live in swamps and remote islands due to the fear of attacks.
Food insecurity and malnutrition is a serious challenge and have reached unprecedented levels in this country. On 20th February this year, localised famine was declared in two counties; in Leer and in Mayendit. Some hundreds of thousands of people are facing starvation and a million more are on the brink of famine across the country.
As regards to the operating environment, humanitarian workers are increasingly operating in a difficult and dangerous environment and humanitarian workers are paying the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.
Over the weekend, the humanitarian community had to relocate 60 humanitarian workers in parts of Jonglei following serious violence and the escalation on insecurity there.
At least 82 aid workers have been killed since December 2013, including recent killings of six aid workers in an ambush attack on the road between Juba and Pibor. A week ago, three contractors were lost working for one of the humanitarian agencies in Wau.
Aid workers are often harassed across the country and humanitarian compounds and supplies have been looted and vandalised, most recently in Jonglei, in Kajo-Keiji, Yei, Wau Shilluk and in Mayendit – all these happened between February and March.
These issues were discussed with government counterparts at the recently held humanitarian high level committee meeting about a fortnight ago. Last week, the visiting UN and NGO emergency directors who came from various headquarters and capitals again raised these issues with the authorities.
In carrying out work as humanitarians to provide much needed assistance to populations and communities in need, humanitarians face repeated challenges to reach people in dire need as a result of insecurity and access denials.
The biggest part of access challenges that have to be dealt with is not at the national level but rather at the sub-national level. These incidents have been codified; the incidents that have to do with access denials, in the process of being shared with the national government for their action.
Working with government, the UN and international partners are dedicated to responding to the current famine. So far, humanitarian partners have already delivered lifesaving assistance and protection to at least 1.6 million people in 2017, including assistance provided to some 400,000 people in locations affected by famine in Leer and Mayendit and locations of higher risk of famine including Koch and Paninjar. This has been possible due to the collective prioritisation of response efforts, as it is simply not possible to meet all needs everywhere, and flexible response modalities including a combination of static presence and mobile response teams have been employed.
The UN’s response has focused on scaling up food assistance, nutrition and health provisions, WASH, and enhancing livelihood opportunities for those unfortunate citizens in those parts of the country.
Humanitarians are responding to large-scale displacements in and around Kodok and Aburok in Fashoda County, Upper Nile. Much more needs to be done to pull from the brink the hundreds of thousands who are severely insecure and on the verge of famine.
Owusu stated that “First, the guns have to fall silent and the cessation of hostilities must hold. While humanitarians will continue to do all that is possible to alleviate suffering, the fact remains that unless the guns don’t fall silent, the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate. The people of South Sudan have suffered for far too long.”
He went on to say that “while humanitarian workers in this country remain ready to scale up efforts, all parties to the conflict must ensure that the operating environment is conducive to the delivery of aid by ensuring free, safe and unhindered access to all areas of this country in order to avert the spread of famine. In this regard, the humanitarian community welcomes commitments made by his Excellency the President and the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs to remove obstacles including minimising transactions cost to humanitarian workers.”
“Funding is urgently needed particularly to scale up the famine response to deliver vital supplies during the dry season. We must take urgent action now to avert further catastrophe in the months ahead. Since the famine was announced, several donors have generously announced contributions to our efforts, however much more is urgently needed to enable timely humanitarian action.”
“The humanitarian challenges that we are dealing with are the consequences of the failure of politics to reconcile differences and to address grievances. We must fix the politics; all parties must step up efforts towards the political solution to help lessen the humanitarian caseload.”
“Ultimately, the long-term answer to the humanitarian situation is recovery, stabilisation and development. There must be a corresponding increase in investments in livelihoods. Investing in livelihoods in itself is lifesaving but peace and relative security at community levels are needed to provide an opportunity to scale up interventions and recovery and stabilisations initiatives which many communities in this country presently deserve so much.”
“The UN country team and its interim cooperation framework remains committed to scaling up its programming beyond humanitarian assistance to activities such as resilience building, helping to revitalise local economies, supporting the provision of basic social services to the most vulnerable in society, supporting peace and governance initiatives, and also extending support to some of the most vulnerable in society – which are women and the youth.”
“The devastating effects of sexual violence experienced by the women and girls of South Sudan as a result of this conflict. Violence against women is against our core values as human beings. The horrors that young girls and women go through in the form of rape as a result of this conflict are repulsive. It must stop and the most severe actions must be taken against those perpetrators. The people of South Sudan have suffered enough. An end to violence is the only way forward for the people of South Sudan to enjoy sustained peace and to be able to live in dignity, for communities to be able to recover, for all of us to work together on the path of development.”
“What we need to fight is poverty and under-development; this should be the priority of every citizen of this country,” Eugene Owusu stated,