The UN’s humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be “imploding”. Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
John Ging, Operations Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), today cited an urgent need to mobilise funding for the crisis in Sudan, where some 6.1 million people currently need assistance. This represents a 40 percent increase over this time last year.
Malnutrition and food insecurity were said to be escalating at an “alarming” rate, with some 500,000 children affected, Mr Ging told a news conference in New York. The situation was particularly dire in Darfur, where renewed violence was displacing larger and larger numbers of civilians. Almost 400,000 persons were displaced only in 2013, and almost 200,000 more so far this year, according to the UN.
“This dire humanitarian situation is compounded by the fact that, with so many crises around the world currently, Darfur not getting the attention or global funding that it deserves,” stated Mr Ging, who recently visited both Sudan and South Sudan on a mission with other humanitarian colleagues.
He added that the situation in Sudan required an end to conflict and “a more generous response” from the international community. So far this year, the UN and partners have only received 3 percent of the US$ 995 million requested for humanitarian activities in Sudan, an oil producing country with severed links to the West.
South Sudan sees “senseless brutality”
Mr Ging described as “very tragic” what has happened in neighbouring South Sudan, where fighting between government and opposition forces that began in mid-December has left nearly 5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including 3.7 million at high risk of food insecurity.
“You have the newest country in the world now imploding,” the UN director stated, noting that the conflict was setting back the very fragile development that was occurring since the country gained independence from Sudan in July 2011.
Amid the “senseless brutality”, some 700,000 people have been displaced internally, including 67,000 who are sheltering at UN bases around the country, while almost a quarter of a million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
One of the major challenges in South Sudan, Mr Ging said, was the lack of respect on the ground for humanitarian staff, convoys, facilities and supplies, and this included delays and checkpoints for convoys. “You have an urgent situation on the ground in South Sudan, and we need the freedom to do the job that we must do, and can do, if we are allowed to do it,” he stated.
Another major challenge was funding, particularly as the onset of the rainy season draws near. “We are in a race against time with the rainy season fast approaching that we have to pre-position stocks. We really do appeal to our donor community to give us the funding that we need to do the things that we most urgently need to do, in the quickest way possible.”
“Hope for South Sudan fading away
Yasmin Haque from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who until recently served as country representative in South Sudan, today said the events in that country were “tragic”. She noted that the conflict has “severely disrupted the hope” that the children of South Sudan had in their country.
It was now “really urgent” to have funding and services in place to meet their needs, Ms Haque underlined. The conflict had also meant that children were facing grave violations, whether their schools were being occupied, health centres were being destroyed or children themselves were being recruited by the armed groups.
Amid the worsening crisis in South Sudan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) this week appealed for US$ 371 million in “urgently needed support” for the thousands of South Sudanese refugees arriving in neighbouring countries.
Since fighting erupted in mid-December, 204,000 people have fled to Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, according to UNHCR. With continuing insecurity and growing food shortages inside South Sudan, the agency expects the number of South Sudanese refugees across the region to reach 340,000 by the end of the year.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva that South Sudanese have recently been fleeing into neighbouring countries at a rate of nearly 2,000 per day, with most heading to Ethiopia and Uganda. Many of the refugees had been arriving exhausted, nutritionally weak and in poor health, having coming from areas of South Sudan experiencing severe food shortages.
The majority were women, children and older people. With some 700,000 people displaced inside South Sudan and 3.7 million at high risk of food insecurity, the potential for further cross-border movement was said to be high.