‘Peace, stability and security’ vital for South Sudan’s war-weary people, says top UN relief official

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Valerie Amos, briefs journalists on her visit to South Sudan. UN Photo/Isaac Gideon

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Valerie Amos, briefs journalists on her visit to South Sudan. UN Photo/Isaac Gideon

Juba, 9 February 2015 – Continued conflict in South Sudan risks depriving the country of a generation of “lost” children, warned United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos today during a press conference in Juba, the capital of the strife-torn nation.

Ms. Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, added that continued economic stagnation would hold back development and prevent support for essential sectors like health and education.

She made her comments at the end of a three-day tour of South Sudan with UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Special Envoy Forest Whitaker, during which the two saw the impact of the crisis on people caught in the middle of fighting.

“People need peace, stability and security,” she said in a plea to those engaged in the conflict. “It is heartrending to see the suffering of the people.”

Stressing the fact the 2.5 million people urgently need help with food, she described the tour she took with Mr. Whitaker, Academy Award-winning actor and Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation, through Ayod county in Jonglei state.

“People are desperate for peace. They are tired of living in fear. Many have had to flee several times. They are exhausted. They lack water; they are extremely worried for their children, who are not in school and at risk of being recruited into armed groups. Sexual violence is rife. All people want to live in safety, security and stability.”

During the trip, the two also saw the work of humanitarian organizations, which helped 3.6 million people in the past year, containing a cholera epidemic and vaccinating nearly 1 million children against measles and polio. She said humanitarians showed extraordinary commitment under difficult and dangerous circumstances and drew attention to the 13 humanitarian workers who had died since the conflict began, and the constant threat of kidnapping and looting of supplies and equipment they faced.

Paying tribute to the civilian protection efforts made by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), she said that she and Mr. Whitaker had discussed the humanitarian, economic and political situation with President Salva Kiir and his Ministers, agreeing on the need to stop violence and immediately secure a sustainable peace.

The security situation in South Sudan has steadily deteriorated since political in-fighting between President Kiir and his former Vice-President, Riek Machar, started in mid-December 2013. The hostilities subsequently turned into a full-fledged conflict that has sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to UN bases around the country. A cease-fire was recently agreed between the two leaders and their respective factions, but without a broader agreement on running the world’s youngest country.

After the press conference in Juba, Ms. Amos and Mr. Whitaker flew to Nairobi, where they addressed the joint UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)-Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) High-Level Event on the Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan, where States pledged some $618 million to support the humanitarian response.

While the $1.4 billion in humanitarian assistance contributed by the international community, including IGAD Member States, makes South Sudan the world’s best funded appeal in 2014, Ms. Amos stressed the need to maintain support, and pointed to a rise in the number of people needing assistance in 2015 and to a projected increase in funding needed to $1.8 billion.

“If we receive $600 million of that by the end of February, we can take advantage of the dry season – which lasts until May – to reach more people in need and to pre-position supplies,” Ms Amos said, underscoring the need to avert further humanitarian deterioration in the country. “Thousands of children are suffering from malnutrition. The threat of hunger and disease is real.”

Ms. Amos noted that almost half a million South Sudanese people had sought refuge in neighbouring countries, mostly in border areas, where they lacked access to food and basic services, and she warned that without peace, a “significant regional impact” could be safely predicted, and she called on IGAD and the wider international community to pressurise parties to end the violence.

Mr. Whitaker joined her call, pointing specifically to the conflict’s “brutal” impact on children in the country.

“I met boys and girls who are not being educated, and are part of an estimated half a million children who have dropped out of school,” he said. “Thousands have been recruited by armed groups, and are fighting wars instead of learning. Only with peace can young people in South Sudan play an important role in rebuilding their lives and face the future without fear.”