New York, 8 July 2014 – On the occasion of the third anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the country’s leaders to live up to the expectations of their people, lay down their arms and return immediately to negotiations to end the ongoing crisis.
In a statement issued today by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban recalled the hopes and expectations of the people of South Sudan when their country was established on 9 July 2011, following a UN-supported referendum.
Those hopes were dashed by the conflict that broke out in December 2013, according to the statement, which points out that thousands of South Sudanese have been killed, and atrocities have been committed against civilians.
In mid-December 2013, political infighting between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar turned into a full-fledged conflict that has since then uprooted some 1.5 million people and placed more than 7 million at risk of hunger and disease.
The conflict also sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases around the country, leading the Mission to take the unprecedented decision to open its doors to those seeking protection.
“The South Sudanese people are bearing the brunt of the failure to stop the fighting,” today’s statement noted. “They are living in squalor, their livelihoods have been lost and they are plagued by hunger, disease and insecurity…
“The Secretary-General reminds the leaders of South Sudan that this is a man-made crisis. It is their responsibility and within their power to stop it. He calls on them to live up to the expectations of their people, lay down their arms and return immediately to the negotiation table.”
In the South Sudanese capital, Juba, the outgoing UN envoy told reporters prior to departing the country that the losses brought on by the crisis have been “heart-breaking.”
“The country has now been set back decades,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNMISS, said on her last day. “The terrible destruction of towns and property is one thing, but the divisions and wounds are deeper than ever. The gulf between communities is abysmal, and the animosity is worse than we have ever seen at any point in South Sudanese history…
“As the people of South Sudan prepare to celebrate the third anniversary of their nation’s independence tomorrow, they see a country that is now at grave risk, not only of fighting, but also of failing.”
Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are stepping up joint missions to reach desperate people in remote areas of South Sudan where the number of children at risk of death from malnutrition-related causes has increased dramatically and a hunger catastrophe is looming.
An estimated 235,000 children under the age of 5 will require treatment for acute malnutrition this year – twice as many as last year, the agencies said in a joint news release. The situation is most dire in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states where data indicates as much as 60 to 75 per cent of the population is severely food-insecure.
“Many people driven from their homes have to walk for days with nothing to eat before they reach towns like the state capital of Bentiu in the hope of finding assistance. Some of them, particularly children, arrive so badly malnourished there is nothing that can be done to save them,” said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan.
“We must reach the remote populations with essential supplies and services to spare them that perilous journey.”