South Sudan situation ‘heartbreaking’: UN official

Civilians arriving at a UN compound in Bor, the capital of the Jonglei state, South Sudan, seeking refuge from the violence. [Hailemichael Gebrekrstos/UNMISS].

Civilians arriving at a UN compound in Bor, the capital of the Jonglei state, South Sudan, seeking refuge from the violence. [Hailemichael Gebrekrstos/UNMISS].

Well over a million people have been forced from their homes, and many more face severe hunger, due to continued violence in South Sudan, according to a senior UN official.

About 1.4 million people have been displaced, either internally or to neighbouring countries, by the violence in  South Sudan, after conflict broke out in the newly-formed state in December 2013.

Estimates put the number of dead in the tens of thousands.

“The situation is heartbreaking … There’s not a part of the country that you could say is not directly affected by the conflict,” said Sue Lautze, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s representative in South Sudan.

Lautze, who has been present in the country throughout the conflict, along with other humanitarian actors, such as the EU, added: “Markets have been destroyed, populations.”

The EU and its member states have contributed some €186 million to the country in 2014.

Some 300,000 of those fleeing the violence have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, while about 1.1 million are internally displaced, some repeatedly due to renewed threats of violence and the risk of floods.

“Now the flood waters are coming up, so having dealt with the conflict hazard they’re now having to deal with the hazard flood waters … So a lot of work is about survival, about helping them survive,” Lautze told EURACTIV.

The violence broke out on 15 December after tensions arose from within the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), South Sudan’s armed forces. The conflict then erupted into violence between two of the country’s largest ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer.

Much of the violence has been along ethnic lines. However, it has also been political, with gunmen killing people believed to be supporters of the regime. There are people of some 60 ethnicities in South Sudan.

The two warring sides signed an agreement to cease hostilities in January but reports of violence continue.

Food security ‘crisis

FAO officials expressed fears earlier this year that displacement would cause farmers to miss the planting season, which begins in March and ends around June. This would then mean that the pockets of violence could turn into a wider food security crisis.

While some farmers made the planting season, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification shows declining food security in both the areas most affected by the violence and those less affected. There is a “real risk” of famine being declared this year, according to the FAO.

The FAO and other humanitarian actors have distributed emergency kits, including fishing gear, vegetable and crop seeds and vaccines for livestock. The EU has been providing people affected by the conflict with basic healthcare, access to clean water, sanitation and food assistance.

Many people are sustaining themselves with wild fruit and hunting. There have been reports of people killing livestock for reasons other than for food.

The EU says that about 5 million of South Sudan’s estimated 12 million of population are in need of humanitarian assistance and some 7 million are at risk of food insecurity.

Aid efforts have so far been hampered by lack of access, largely due to the violence, floods, looting and a widespread cholera outbreak.

The Republic of South Sudan is the world's newest nation, after the northeastern African territory gained its independence from Sudan in 2011.

South Sudan's population is officially 8.26 million, however, an estimated 12 million people live in the country. Child mortality is around one in every ten. Only 30% of people have access to clean water and the level of acute malnutrition among under-fives is "critical", at some 18.1%.

The populations in South Sudan traditionally rely on livestock rearing, fishing, farming, wage labour and sometimes hunting to sustain themselves.

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