March 4, 2014 (GENEVA) - Conflict in South Sudan and the Central Africa Republic (CAR has caused one of the biggest population displacements seen in Africa in recent years, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.
- Almost one million people have been displaced by fighting in South Sudan, with tens of thousands of people fleeing to neighbouring countries, including Ethiopia (Photo: UNHCR)
Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming, said ongoing violence in both countries has displaced a combined 1.8 million people across the region, with funding for both emergencies “far below needs”.
She said the worsening humanitarian crisis was being compounded by the region’s already sparse support capacities, with the influx of displaced people placing a heavy burden on already over-stretched resources.
The UNHCR appealed on Tuesday for increased support to meet the urgent needs of people fleeing the crises in both the CAR and South Sudan.
A UN humanitarian appeal for South Sudan still needs 1.1 billion to meet the June target of $1.27 billion, while a strategic response plan for the CAR – where more than half the country’s 4.6 million people are currently in need of assistance – has received just 9% of the $551 million needed this year.
The calls come as the UN’s top humanitarian official in South Sudan, Tony Lanzer, tweeted on Wednesday that an assessment team had been dispatched to Pagak after thousands of displaced people, many looking severely malnourished, were seen streaming into Ethiopia.
In South Sudan, over 900,000 people have been driven from their homes, including 196,921 who have fled to neighbouring countries, after a power struggle between president Salva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar erupted in violence in mid-December.
It is estimated that by June as many as 3.2 million people could be in need of humanitarian help, with food security one of the most pressing concerns.
Many traumatised CAR refugees who have crossed into Chad and Cameroon, fleeing brutal inter-communal violence in their homeland are suffering from severe health problems, while those fleeing from South Sudan into Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries are also malnourished.
Medical screenings conducted last week in Ethiopian camps revealed 11.1% of children were sufffering from severe malnutrition, and another 27.7% from acute malnutrition.
“In Ethiopia, we are seeing refugees arriving in worsening states due to the lack of food inside South Sudan and the long distances that many have had to walk to reach the Pagak and Akobo border areas,” Fleming said.
“The increasing numbers of new arrivals are outpacing available humanitarian resources. Meanwhile, funding for both the Central African Republic and South Sudan emergencies remains far below needs,” she added.
The effects of ongoing conflict in South Sudan have been particularly devastating for the country’s children - which account for almost half the number of displaced people.
“We are working to stave off disaster,” Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s director of emergency programmes, said in a statement on Monday. “People are continuing to flee their homes in the face of fierce fighting and terrible violence.”
“The help effort for refugees arriving from these conflicts urgently needs stepping up,” said Fleming, adding that the increasing numbers of new arrivals are outpacing available humanitarian resources.
Among the most pressing needs are food, clean water, shelter and sanitation.
Last month, the UN’s top humanitarian official, Valerie Amos, expressed concern over “the grave humanitarian situation in South Sudan”, where millions of civilians remain at risk from food insecurity, disease and continued violence despite the signing of a tenuous ceasefire agreement on 23 January.