June 30, 2014 (NEW YORK) – The head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Hilde Johnson, has warned of famine in the “coming months” unless the country’s “worrying” humanitarian situation is adequately addressed.
- The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Hilde Johnson (Photo: Getty Images)
“We are worried famine could come in a few months and this might hits levels,” Johnson told reporters in New York Monday.
She said humanitarian situation in the new nation was making it difficult to deliver aid to some areas inaccessible by road, yet not enough was prepositioned in preparation for rainy seasons.
"This is one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world and we are worried that famine can come within any time and hit levels that we have not seen before in the history of South Sudan", said the top UN official.
As part of her neighbouring country tours, however, Johnson said she had to go to Sudan to discuss the use of Sudanese territory to transport humanitarian aid, which the latter willingly accepted.
“There was strong willingness by Sudan to facilitate and foster cross-border humanitarian operation, which is critical,” said Johnson, also the special representative of the UN secretary-general to the world’s youngest nation.
The senior official, who ends her South Sudan tenure this month, urged the warring parties to put the country and its citizens above all to pave way for peace.
“We need to see progress at the negotiating table,” said Johnson, seemingly in support of possible UN sanctions should the country’s leaders fail to agree.
Since fighting broke out in mid-December last year, some 1.5 million people have been displaced while more than 7 million are reportedly at risk of hunger and disease, according to the UN.
It also sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to UNMISS bases around the country, leading the mission to take the unprecedented decision to open its doors to those seeking protection.
Johnson cited the decision to give shelter and protection to civilians fleeing for their lives was “the most important achievement” of her three-year tenure as the head of UNMISS.
“The fact that we opened our gates actually has saved very many thousands of people’s lives. There will be incredible challenges going forward with this decision, but it were the right one,” she told reporters.
Also crucial, Johnson stressed, was to ensure accountability for the serious crimes that have been committed and foster reconciliation among the communities.
Both South Sudan government and its rebel forces have been accused of committing crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and other sexual violence, during months of fighting that has left thousands of people dead.
“The consequences for the civilian population have been devastating. There have been attacks on hospitals, churches, mosques, and United Nations bases,” said the UN mission in the country in a 62-page report, which called for further investigations after finding reasonable grounds to believe both parties violated international human rights and humanitarian law.