UN relief chief urges efforts to save lives of displaced South Sudanese
UNITED NATIONS – UN relief chief Stephen O’ Brien on Wednesday called on the international community to save the lives of the South Sudanese people who were fleeing fighting in their country with food, water, medical care and shelter.
O’Brien, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, made the appeal when he was speaking to reporters here after he just returned from a three-day visit to South Sudan.
“Let me be clear: people in South Sudan are not just fleeing their homes because they need food, shelter or medical care and school for their children,” said O’Brien, who is also the UN emergency relief coordinator.
“They are fleeing through fear for their lives — just as you or I would if faced with the same hideous threat. So we must protect them, and we must save their lives with food, water, medical care and shelter,” he said.
“I call on the international community to make sure together we can avert an even worse humanitarian tragedy in South Sudan,” he said.
“Sadly, in the past year, the humanitarian situation has significantly deteriorated, including in areas that were relatively stable, and displacement and hunger are now widespread across the country,” he said.
South Sudan was founded in July 2011, after it gained independence from Sudan. The country descended into conflict in December 2013 due to internal struggles between rival factions.
The recent fighting erupted in and around the capital of Juba on July 7 between rival forces — the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and the SPLA in opposition backing First Vice-President Riek Machar, killing some 272 people, including 33 civilians.
During the visit, the second one by the senior UN official to South Sudan since he assumed office in June last year, O’Brien travelled to Wau and Aweil, where he met with displaced and severely food insecure people and hear first-hand the stories of their plight.
“Women in Wau told me how they were attacked and displaced multiple times,” he said. “I spoke personally with three courageous women who told me how women and girls were raped, and men and boys were killed, abducted or prevented from seeking protection. They did tell me that they need security to continue their lives.”
In Aweil, O’Brien said he met a woman who brought her eight-month-old daughter, Icahn, to a treatment center for severe acute malnutrition.
“The mother herself was so malnourished that she could no longer breastfeed,” he said. “She had already lost the baby’s twin due to malnutrition not long before. I can add that eight-month-old baby weighed only three kilograms.”
“The situations that I saw in Wau and Aweil are of course emblematic of the devastating fate that has befallen this country, even since I last visited, and over recent times,” he said.
In July 2015, both of these locations were seen as beacons of hope and prospects for development, he said, adding that at present, one is mired in conflict and the other is facing the worst food insecurity in many years — and is at real risk of getting worse, despite the incredible work of humanitarian organizations.
“But Wau and Aweil are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “In each location where there has been fighting, civilians have been attacked and forcibly displaced.”
More than 2 million people have fled their homes since December 2013. Some 1.6 million people were displaced inside South Sudan, with more than 900,000 people having fled to neighboring countries.
Over the past month, some 70,000 South Sudanese crossed the border into Uganda as refugees. Across the country, some 4.8 million people are severely food insecure and a quarter of a million children are severely malnourished.
“Again this year we are battling a cholera outbreak,” he said.
During his meeting with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and senior government officials, they discussed the dire and worsening humanitarian crisis.
“I expressed in clear terms my shock and dismay at the appalling reports of violations committed against civilians during fighting in recent months, including in Juba,” he said. “In particular, I condemned the heinous acts of sexual violence carried out against women and girls, including by members of the armed forces.”
He said that he also reiterated the need for humanitarians to be granted free, safe and unhindered access to all people in need, wherever they may be, and for humanitarian workers and their assets to be respected.
“Humanitarians are in South Sudan to save lives and for no other reason,” he said. “Our task and our demand by the UN and beyond is to impartially meet the urgent and severe humanitarian and protection needs of the millions of suffering people in this country.”
“Humanitarian workers are saving lives while risking their own, and I am appalled that they continue to be harassed, targeted and killed,” he said.
When he visited last year, 27 of UN humanitarian staff workers had lost their lives and many more were missing and unaccounted for, he said. “Today, the number of aid workers killed since December 2013 is 57. This is unacceptable and unconscionable, and I urged the president to take immediate action to end the impunity that has prevailed to date.”
So far this year, even in the most difficult circumstances, aid workers have reached more than 2.8 million people with assistance and protection in South Sudan, he said.
“Despite the violence, intimidation, and interference they have faced, aid agencies are determined to assist civilians across this country who have already suffered too much.”
“The scale, breadth and depth of humanitarian needs in South Sudan continue to grow, and the plight of the people demands the world’s attention,” he added. (PNA/Xinhua)