By Julius N. Uma
July 8, 2012 (JUBA) - A year after it attained independence, the new Republic of South Sudan is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the war in 2005, under the weight of severe economic meltdown and ongoing conflict, the international aid agency Oxfam have said in a report.
The crisis, which is characterised by sky rocketing fuel and food prices, it warned, is likely to undermine long term and emergency efforts to help nearly half the population, who reportedly lack basic necessities for survival.
"Vital spending on infrastructure and services such as new roads, schools, healthcare and water systems is being slashed, as the country faces economic catastrophe. The price of food and fuel has reached unprecedented levels," Oxfam says in the report.
"Inflation shot from 21.3 percent in February to 80 percent in May, pushing essential food and supplies way beyond the reach of ordinary people. Half of South Sudan’s 9.7 million people are facing food shortages – more than double the number last year,” it adds.
In South Sudan’s Upper Nile region, for instance, Oxfam says inflation has reached unprecedented levels, thus hampering the delivery of water and sanitation services to thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting in Sudan. Currently, a 200 litre barrel of fuel reportedly costs up to $1,600 US, compared to just $600 in January this year.
"The jubilation of independence is now tempered by the reality of a daily struggle to survive," said Helen McElhinney, Oxfam policy advisor.
"Some people are living on one meal a day and double the number of people are in need of food aid compared to last year. Refugees are enduring dire conditions in border camps with not enough water to go around," she added, while urging South Sudan’s government to work closely with the international community to put the fragile economy back on track to avert further crisis.
The report published on 6 July also highlights the impact of an increase in hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan, saying it has severed trade, cutting off the vital flow of people, fuel and goods, thus affecting the ability of people to earn a living.
Oxfam, in its report, cites the situation in South Sudan’s Border States, where markets have reportedly become bare while prices for staple foods, such as a tin of millet, which feeds a family of five for two days, have quadrupled.
Also of concern, it says, is the value of the South Sudanese Pound
(SSP), which has fallen against the dollar, leaving small traders unable to stock market shelves with imported goods, heavily relied upon by the new nation.
"South Sudan is increasingly reliant on food aid. Yet with peace, a stable economy, and investment in its future, South Sudan would be more than capable of feeding itself," said Oxfam, in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune.
Agriculture, which forms the backbone of most of South Sudan’s rural economies, has not been fully developed. Despite its rich soil and water on vast land, less than five percent of the land is being utilised for agricultural practices, and food security remains a top government priority.
"South Sudan has the potential to feed itself, and could be a bread basket for the region," McElhinnery notes in the report, while calling for large investments in agriculture, water, education and other services as mechanisms for the country’s economic recovery.
MYTH OR REALITY
Barnaba Benjamin Marial, South Sudan’s information minister admits that the country has experienced difficult economic times, but remains optimistic that the current government will overcome these challenges with time.
"It’s true we have gone through very hard economic times, but you need to take into consideration the fact that we inherited several challenges when we got our independence and it will take time to address all of them," said Marial.
He however urged donor and development partners not to only focus on pointing out the weaknesses of the new nation, but rather to join hands in the collective nation building process.
Onyoti Adigo Nyikec, South Sudan’s opposition leader in the National
Legislative Assembly (NLA) told Sudan Tribune that he is not surprised by such a report, warning of more to come, unless the current government focuses on the real problems affecting the population.
Nhial Bol, the managing editor of The Citizen newspaper, however, accused South Sudan’s government of allegedly failing to make any progress on the process of democratic transformation in the country, a year after its independence.
"There is still this tendency of dictatorship in the country and this is what we have to continue fighting. How can you talk of freedom of expression, yet you are the same government suppressing peoples freedoms?" he asked.
He also expressed worry that the media bill, currently before lawmakers, could be easily “distorted” to suit what he described as the interest of some people within the current leadership.
But Edmund Yakani, a civil society activist insists that now is not the right time to lose hope or condemn the world’s newest nation to failure.
"With only three weeks to go before the deadline for compliance with
United Nations Resolution 2046, now is not the time to lose hope and condemn the world’s newest country to failure. Now is the time to act," said Yakani.