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South Sudan crisis deepening, says UN emergency relief chief

August 10, 2016 (JUBA) – The United Nations emergency relief coordinator, Stephen O’Brien has highlighted what he described as the enormous humanitarian crisis facing the world’s youngest nation and the devastating impact of the ongoing violence on its people.

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Stephen O’Brien (right), Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefs journalists on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan (UN Photo)

“People in South Sudan are not just fleeing their homes because they need food, shelter or medical care and school for their children. They are fleeing [because they] fear for their lives,” said O’Brien.

“We must protect them, and we must save their lives,” he added.

The humanitarian situation in South Susan has witnessed significant deterioration, including in areas that were once relatively stable.

Since December 2013, UN figures show, over two million people have fled their homes. Some 1.6 million are displaced within South Sudan and more than 900,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.

Last month, however, violent clashes between the country’s rival factions led to the death of 270 people and displacing more than 40,000 civilians, before the country’s leaders declared a ceasefire.

Over the last month alone, some 70,000 South Sudanese crossed the border into Uganda as refugees, according to the world body.

Moreover, some 4.8 million people across the country are reportedly facing severe food insecurity and 250,000 children are severely malnourished as the war-hit nation battles an outbreak of Cholera.

O’Brien, also the UN under-secretary-general for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, visited South Sudan’s towns of Wau and Aweil.

While in the capital, Juba, the UN relief coordinator met South Sudan president Salva Kiir, during which he reportedly expressed dismay at the appalling reports of violations committed against civilians during fighting in recent months, including in the country’s capital, Juba.

He condemned the heinous acts of sexual violence carried out against women and girls, including by members of the armed forces.

According to O’Brien, at least 57 aid workers have been killed in the world’s youngest nation since the December 2013 outbreak of conflict.

“This is unacceptable and unconscionable. I urged the President to take immediate action to end the impunity that has prevailed to date,” said O’Brien, adding that humanitarians were risking their lives and yet they continue to be harassed, targeted and even killed.

He underscored the “extremely” difficult conditions for humanitarian workers, reiterating that they should be granted free, safe and unhindered access to all people in need, wherever they may be, and that they, themselves, and their assets must be respected.

“Humanitarians are in South Sudan to save lives and for no other reason,” said the senior UN official.

“[They are] risking their own [lives], and I am appalled that they continue to be harassed, targeted and killed,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Response Plan, O’ Brien said, faces a gap of $700 million, and that this will increase once the appeal is revised to reflect the needs that have arisen since the beginning of 2016.