South Sudan, the world's youngest country, did not mark its third anniversary on July 9 by celebrating, but by struggling to survive what the United Nations (UN) recently described as one of the gravest humanitarian and political crises in the world's history.
At the same time, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on South Sudan's leaders to meet the expectations of their people, lay down their weapons, and return to negotiations to end the crisis. The conflict that broke out in December 2013 has uprooted 1.5-million people, placed more than 7 million at risk of hunger and disease, and sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases around the country. In response, the Mission took the unprecedented decision to open its doors to those seeking protection.
The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) sheltering at UNMISS bases is likely to remain high over the coming months in light of insecurity and the projected worsening of the food security situation.
Perhaps most disturbing, however, is the fact that all parties to the conflict are committing abuses against children in violation of international law, including: abduction, attacks against schools and hospitals, denial of humanitarian access, killing and maiming of children, rape and other sexual violence, and the recruitment and use of children as child soldiers.
An estimated 235,000 children under the age of five will require treatment for acute malnutrition this year -- or twice as many children as last year according to UNICEF. Furthermore, some 675,000 children will require treatment for "moderate severe acute malnutrition." Unfortunately, because of the challenging conditions, the humanitarian community has been able to reach only 10 per cent of these children with necessary treatment.
The situation is most dire in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states where 60 to 75 per cent of the population is severely food-insecure.
Oxfam Canada says that as many as four-million South Sudanese are at risk of severe hunger. World Vision warns that famine is "almost certain," and calls for additional funding to help sustain current humanitarian efforts.
During the parliamentary take-note debate on South Sudan on April 29th, 2014, in the House of Commons and a subsequent article on May 1, 2014, I asked the following questions: will the Government consider providing additional funding to humanitarian partners if the needs on the ground continue to increase? Will Canada join in, in enacting sanctions against key individuals fueling the violence? Will the Government consider increasing support to UNMISS beyond its assessed and voluntary contributions to the UN to protect civilians, especially women and children, from violence? How will the Government adjust and renew its longer-term development programming? Unfortunately, I received no answers during the debate or afterward.
Since July 9, however, the U.S. announced an additional $22 million in humanitarian assistance to refugees and people displaced by the violence in South Sudan, bringing its aid to $456 million this fiscal year. The EU also announced asset freezes and travel bans on two South Sudanese military leaders; the U.S. had already imposed similar measures against leaders on both sides. It is clear that both the European Union and the U.S. recognize the deteriorating situation.
The question that begs to be asked is will the Canadian Government now provide a second round of humanitarian funding, particularly, as it did not pledge additional funds at the donor pledging conference in Oslo in May?
Funding is urgently needed to reach children in remote areas of South Sudan to treat them for severe acute malnutrition. Currently, UNICEF, which is 68 percent underfunded for its emergency nutrition work in the country, fears 50,000 children under five are likely to die this year unless they can be reached with treatment.
More broadly, the South Sudan Crisis Response Plan was only 42 per cent funded as of July 3, leaving a shortfall of around US$1.04 billion. The funding level has remained largely unchanged for the past month while the situation continues to deteriorate.
The head of Amnesty International's Canadian branch says Canada should "come off the sidelines" to take a more active role in South Sudan as the humanitarian crisis deepens. A spokesperson for Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird recently wrote: "Canada is concerned with the worsening humanitarian situation in South Sudan and we are in contact with our allies and regional partners. ... We will continue to monitor the situation closely."
Canadians should be asking just how much more monitoring and consulting with allies is needed when thousands of children are at risk of dying this year, our major humanitarian organizations are asking for more funding, and like-minded countries are responding right now.
The government knows what is happening, and it should act, not deliberate.
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“I left Malakal because of the fighting, we were chased from there - they wanted to kill us. We walked here and the children were really suffering because we had nothing to eat on the way. Now we’re here, there still nothing to eat but leaves and my daughter is sick and malnourished. "Since the conflict started, life has become very difficult and we’re suffering every day. I would like to go home to Malakal where our lives were easier if there is peace, but I don't know what can stop this fighting. "It is good that South Sudan got its independence and we have our freedom, but it has not put an end to these wars. That is what I need for my children to have a better life, is an end to conflict.”
“It is good that we separated ourselves from Sudan because back when we were one country, we didn't have freedom. Now we are happy that we're with our own people, looking after our own affairs. "I wouldn't say I'm disappointed by the conflict which has broken out now, because I believe everything is in God's hands. But our lives were already hard, and this war has made everything more difficult. "I walked for ten days with my three children and mother to get here to Akobo, after the fighting broke out in Malakal and my husband got sick and died. My two daughters used to go to school, but now they have to go out to the forest with me to get leaves and berries for us to eat, or firewood for us to sell. [The leaves} are not enough and they’re getting sick from eating them all the time. "I hope there will be peace so that our situation can improve and we can go back to our home. But you know, there is always war here in South Sudan."
“This war has affected children in many ways. Some children have lost their parents; all of the houses have been burnt down and all of the food in the stocks has been looted or burnt. "During Independence, I thought we would be very happy because we had our freedom. When we were getting Independence and I gave birth to Nyabol I had hope. I said to myself when I gave birth ‘I won’t have to carry this child and flee the way we had to flee. This child will stay without any problems and when it grows big it will go to school’. "What I felt at the time of the war? I felt like it was taking us to zero level, we had to start again. Now I’m praying to God for peace Then our brothers who have run to other countries like Kenya and Uganda will be able to come back and build our country again, because at the moment it is completely destroyed. "My message to the world is South Sudan is one country and these are the same people who are killing themselves. They’re the ones that are looking for power. I hope the world can help bring peace and reconciliation to South Sudan so all of the South Sudanese people can be reconciled.”
“I was 16 years old when I got married. I did not go to school because there was no education when I was young. "My three eldest children now go to school. Their education has been interrupted because sometimes we don’t have the money to pay the school fees, and also because of insecurity. "We are always scared because when South Sudan got independence, it did not become a peaceful country. The armed groups stopped that – they were abducting children and killing people and now the fighting has started again so we don’t enjoy a peaceful country. "I hope South Sudan will be peaceful in the future with no fighting. I don’t feel good now because people are killing each other, they are killing themselves since they are the same people from the same country. We’re still running like we have been for 21 years.”
"My youngest son was one week old when the conflict started. I carried him wrapped tightly in a towel. I felt that if I would fall down I would drop him because we were running. "My husband left us here in the UNMISS camp and went to fight. [In April], attackers came around all sides of the camp. With the first shot they fired my child [William] was shot. I thought he was dead so I put him down and picked up my other child and ran. "William was found by an organisation who took him to Juba. After three or four days they brought a photo of him. I had lost hope he was alive, but when I saw the photo and I was shocked and happy to realise he was still alive. "I’d tell people outside of South Sudan – we’re dying here, there is a lot of sickness. We are scared of how long we will be here [in the camp]. All of us will die here. "We feel the children are not getting everything they need. William has problems – he does not eat. I want the international community to stop the war so we can live in peace and everyone can help themselves. "
“I grew up here in Akobo until I was 16, when I went to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to get an education and to escape the conflict. There was a lot of bombing in this area, even our church was bombed in 1999 and 2001. "When South Sudan became independent, I was really happy. I feel proud to be South Sudanese. We are black in colour and our culture is strong, and so is our faith. Under Sudan we were forced to be something we are not, but now we are independent everyone in the country should be free to choose their religion, culture, whatever they want. "For my son’s future, I really want him to study. But this conflict has made it difficult for him to begin his education. In truth, I’m very disappointed by the conflict. I feel like if this war goes on, my son won’t have the life I want him to.”