July 26, 2014 (NEW YORK/GENEVA) – Members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have described the current food insecurity situation in South Sudan as the “worst in the world”.
- A UN Security Council session on New York (UN photo)
During its Friday session chaired by Rwanda’s Eugene-Richard Gasana, the UNSC further expressed deep alarm that the crisis in the young nation may soon reach the threshold of famine, citing continued conflict, civilian targeting, and displacement.
Nearly 1.5 million people, aid agencies say, have been forced out of their homes since violence broke out in South Sudan late last year, while over 50,000 children below five years risk dying from malnutrition this year.
However, the 15-member Council urged all UN member states, who together pledged more than $618 million in new funding for both South Sudan and the region in May at a humanitarian pledging conference in Oslo, Norway, to swiftly fulfil those pledges and increase their commitments.
The funds, they further stressed, are critically needed now to provide life-saving assistance in view of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the world’s youngest nation.
At least 3.9 million people in South Sudan risk facing starvation that could reach “catastrophic” levels if peace negotiations were unable to stem ongoing fighting in the country, the US warned on Friday.
“This is not a crisis caused by drought or flood; it is a calamity created by conflict,” said US secretary of state John Kerry.
“South Sudan’s leaders need to make choices and they need to make them now if they’re going to pull their country back from the brink of famine,” he added.
South Sudan recently marked only its third independence anniversary, but a conflict fuelled by ethnic and personal power struggles is already threatening to tear the country apart. Even the US, a close ally of South Sudan, is struggling to pull the latter from the brink of civil war.
Throughout the conflict, however, the US has spoken out against killing of innocent civilians, lack of access to those in need of aid as well as the failure by South Sudanese leaders to end the ongoing violence.
Kerry said South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar have key roles to play in ending the conflict, which has killed thousands and forced about 300,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries.
“I call on them to end the fighting immediately and negotiate in good faith under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development,” Kerry said.
He said the US remains committed to the people of South Sudan and has provided more than $456 million in humanitarian aid this year alone and called on fellow donor countries to make additional contributions.
“The people of South Sudan deserve the opportunity to begin rebuilding their country, and to develop the national and local institutions they need to put South Sudan on a path towards stability,” he said.
A United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) official said the agency was concerned about the possibility of famine in South Sudan and was actively working with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to avoid a catastrophe.
“Since the very start of the conflict, WFP had said that it needed two things to stave off a disaster – humanitarian access to the people in need and the financial resources to reach them with assistance. But WFP had not had enough of either,” Elisabeth Byrs told a news briefing in Geneva.
She said WFP and its partners urgently needed operational funds as they continue providing sustained assistance to avert a hunger catastrophe.
WFP is calling for $143 million to keep food assistance flowing until the end of August, adding that the situation in South Sudan was on a “dramatic path”.