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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