By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN
As South Sudan prepares to make its fifth anniversary of independence, United Nations officials today expressed concern over the continuing violence in parts of the country and the resulting forced displacement of people, both internally and throughout the neighbouring region.
“I am deeply alarmed by the ongoing fighting in Juba between soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA in Opposition,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
“This outbreak of hostilities in the capital, on the eve of the country’s fifth anniversary of independence, is yet another illustration of the parties’ lack of serious commitment to the peace process and represents a new betrayal of the people of South Sudan, who have suffered from unfathomable atrocities since December 2013,” he added.
The UN chief underscored that he is also gravely concerned by the resurgence of violence in Wau and Bentiu, which he said could lead to a “dramatic deterioration” of the security situation across the country.
Demanding that international humanitarian law be respected and that unfettered access to those in need by UN and humanitarian partners be ensured, Mr. Ban also strongly condemned attacks on UN and humanitarian operations, the latest of which was on a senior UN agency official in the capital last night.
“I urge President Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar to put an immediate end to the ongoing fighting, discipline the military leaders responsible for the violence and finally work together as partners to implement the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan,” the Secretary-General said.
Mr Ban added that the UN remains committed to working with all South Sudanese, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union and international and regional partners, to support the return of the country to peace and stability.
At the biweekly press briefing in Geneva this morning, Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the agency remains gravely concerned over the situation in South Sudan, noting that nearly one in four of the country’s citizens is displaced within its borders or in neighbouring countries, which is affecting some 2.6 million people – a large majority of them children – against a population that stood at 11.3 million in 2013.
“Civilians in South Sudan continue to bear the brunt of armed conflict. Sporadic clashes are commonplace, while growing food insecurity and deteriorating economic conditions foretell a grim outlook for the country at large,” Ms. Fleming said.
UNHCR noted that South Sudan has spent much of its short life at war with itself, driven by a political face-off between President Salva Kiir and his then former Vice-President Riek Machar that erupted into full-blown conflict late in 2013.
Some 2.4 million people fled their homes in fear, before an August 2015 peace deal ended the major offensives. The country is preparing to make the fifth anniversary of its independence on 9 July.
Despite the August 2015 peace agreement that formally ended the war, conflict and instability has spread to previously unaffected areas in the Greater Equatorial and Greater Bahr-El-Ghazal regions.
This past month, deadly clashes in Wau resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people, while up to 35,000 fled their homes. Such fighting is characteristic of the trend that produced fresh refugee outflows this year, the UNHCR spokesperson said.
In the nine months that the ceasefire has been observed, there has been no major return movement from countries of asylum. In that period, the number of internally displaced people rose by 100,000, while UNHCR registered nearly 140,000 new refugees.
There are now more than 860,000 South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries, making it the world’s fourth-largest refugee producing country, and second largest in sub-Saharan Africa after Somalia.
Notwithstanding these challenges, South Sudan is host to more than 272,000 refugees from mainly Sudan (251,000), with smaller numbers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (14,799), Ethiopia (4,400) and the Central African Republic (1,878).
This year the country has experienced the arrival of some 9,000 new refugees as a result of conflict in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states of Sudan, Ms. Fleming said.
Neighbouring countries continue to maintain open borders for South Sudanese refugees, and there is ongoing engagement with host communities.
Since 2015, some 22,000 individuals have fled fighting in Western Equatorial into remote parts of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In both countries, insecurity and logistical difficulties are affecting humanitarian access.
Meanwhile, Sudan has received the highest number of new South Sudanese refugees this year, according to UNHCR. With 231,581 individuals, it is now the second-highest refugee hosting country after Ethiopia (285,356). They are followed by Uganda (229,006) and Kenya (103,173).
Humanitarian response is ‘sorely lacking’
The spokesperson also noted that the number of food insecure people in South Sudan is expected to increase from 4.3 million to 4.8 million in line with seasonal vulnerabilities and the economic crisis. At the same time, she underscored that the overall humanitarian response in South Sudan is “sorely lacking” due to severe underfunding.
UNHCR and 42 non-governmental partners are requesting $573 million for refugee protection and assistance programmes. With the inter-agency appeal funded at 17 per cent ($85.4 million), agencies are constrained to prioritize emergency response and life-saving assistance activities, Ms. Fleming said.
As a result, water, sanitation, hygiene, health and shelter interventions in most of the countries of asylum are below the global standard, with the risk of outbreak of diseases. Access to alternative and sustainable household energy is a challenge and one of the main causes of conflict with host communities because refugees are forced to cut firewood for domestic use, a resource that is extremely scarce in some locations, the spokesperson noted.
Children, who constitute 70 per cent of the refugee population, bear the brunt of inadequate resources. More than 16 per cent of them have special needs, including being unaccompanied or separated from family.
“Children are the worst affected by unpredictable population movements and the upheaval of constant displacements,” Ms. Fleming stressed.
In Kakuma, Kenya, for example, UNHCR has noted a significant increase in the prevalence of global acute malnutrition among new arrivals in recent months. Lack of funding is hampering case management efforts, including the reunification of unaccompanied and separated children with their families.
The average regional ratio of case workers to children with specific needs is one case worker per 90 children, while the global standard is one case worker per 25 children, Ms. Fleming said. Ethiopia has just 20 per cent of the child protection staff needed.
Gaps remain in meeting minimum education standards with lack of qualified teachers, insufficient classrooms and scholastic materials. Secondary/tertiary education, vocational training and empowerment programmes for adolescents and youth need to be strengthened as a way to reduce the risk of child recruitment.
In addition, the spokesperson highlighted that the majority of host countries are affected by food ration cuts by the World Food Programme (WFP), compounded by the discontinuation of milling vouchers and the challenge of incomplete food baskets.
“Livelihoods activities were limited in scope and number, and they do not match up to the significant needs of enhancing refugees’ self-reliance,” Ms. Fleming said.
UN Mission in South Sudan condemns violence
In related news today, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) condemned in the strongest terms the resurgence of violence in the country.
Reiterating its calls on all parties to put an end to the ongoing fighting and refrain from inflicting further violence against innocent civilians, UNMISS also deplored the shooting attack on a senior UN agency official that took place yesterday evening in the Tomping area of Juba.
“Such an act constitutes a grave violation of the Status of Forces Agreement between the Government of the Republic of South Sudan and the United Nations. UNMISS calls on the authorities to investigate this incident and bring the perpetrators to account,” the Mission said in a press release.
The UN and the international community are here to assist the people of South Sudan on their road to peace, and under no uncertain terms should its installation/premises or personnel be subjected to targeting nor violence.
In addition, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMISS, Ellen Margrethe Løj, urged all parties “on the eve of South Sudan’s fifth anniversary of independence to cease from engaging in violence and to focus on the implementation of the peace agreement for the benefit of all the people of [the country].”
“The UN remains resolved in fulfilling its mission in South Sudan and supporting the implementation of the peace agreement for a peaceful and prosperous country,” the statement also said.
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