LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of lives will be threatened in South Sudan unless urgent action is taken to end fighting between government forces and rebels and increase international financial support to help civilians, the heads of two of the biggest United Nations agencies said on Tuesday.
At the end of a two-day visit to South Sudan, U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres and Ertharin Cousin, head of the World Food Programme, said many people risked being cut off from help due to lack of safety for aid workers.
“Women we met in Nyal (town in Unity State) who have been affected by the conflict asked us to convey three messages to the world: they need peace, assistance to relieve their suffering, and the chance for their children to return to school,” Cousin said in a joint statement with Guterres.
“Ordinary people are bearing the brunt of this conflict, and agencies like ours are facing far too many obstacles in trying to assist them. This must change. Lives are at stake.”
Fighting continues even though a ceasefire was signed in January to end hostilities between government forces and rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, which broke out in December and threatened to push the country into civil war.
The U.N. estimates 4.9 million people need humanitarian assistance, including 803,000 displaced within the country and 254,000 refugees who have fled from South Sudan to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda since the fighting started.
At least $1.27 billion is needed for humanitarian action by June 2014 but only 30 percent has been received so far, according to the U.N. Financial Tracking Service.
“It is essential that the international community urgently comes together and does everything possible for the parties to forge peace,” said Guterres. “It is tragic to see former refugees who returned with so much hope once again fleeing for their lives.”
FOOD SECURITY AT RISK
The crisis threatens to reverse gains in food security made over the last year, with 3.7 million people now at high risk of hunger, the UN said. South Sudan’s food outlook had been the best in five years before the crisis, but displacement, loss of food stocks and disruption to farming and planting may push millions into hunger.
The situation may be worse in the hardest hit states of Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity, the U.N. noted.
Britain released $13.7 million in emergency funding to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation, the agency said on Monday. The funding will allow it to reach households in time for them to get seeds into the ground during the current planting season and ahead of the rainy season, in particular in areas less affected by fighting such as Western Equatoria.
Cousin and Guterres said they discussed the crisis with President Salva Kiir and other government officials and received his commitment to facilitate humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need.