Friday, May 19, 2017

South Sudan's Crisis

The first famine in 6 years was officially declared by the UN in parts of South Sudan in February, affecting more than 100 000 South Sudanese, with a further 1 million on the brink of starvation. Food aid is acting as life support for many, but a shortage of basic drugs condemns others to death. Aid officials accuse both government and multiple opposition forces of using hunger as a weapon of war, since aid is routinely denied access to the thousands displaced. Added to this are ethnic atrocities and massacres, rape, and oppressive security measures.

In a few months, 5·5 million South Sudanese—nearly half the country—will be struggling to survive extreme hunger, it warns, in a country about the size of France. Opportunistic diseases such as cholera are on the rise. Some 1·9 million people are internally displaced while 1·6 million have fled to neighbouring countries. A total of 830 000 South Sudanese refugees have fled to neighbouring Uganda and the UN expects this figure to reach more than a million by mid-year.

 Rivalry between President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who is from the Dinka tribe, and his then Vice President, Riek Machar, who is Nuer, descended into ethnic violence in late 2013. Machar is now in South Africa, but a plethora of rebel groups, some of which have broken away from his faction, are now in conflict with Kiir's government forces across a country that is home to 64 tribes. Grievances range from disgruntlement against the Juba elite, held responsible for stealing millions of oil dollars, to local land and clan issues. Kiir himself said in 2012 that South Sudanese officials had “stolen” an estimated US$4 billion of public money. Critics meanwhile accused his government of doing little to clamp down on the widespread corruption.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, has warned of a rise in hate speech and incitement to violence by some leaders. Last November, during a visit to the country, Adama Dieng, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, reported the potential for genocide if violence escalates along ethnic lines. The UK secretary for international development, Priti Patel, said after a visit to South Sudan in April: “There are massacres taking place, people's throats are being slit…villages are burnt out, there's a scorched-earth policy. It is tribal, it is absolutely tribal so on that basis it is genocide.”

During violence that erupted in Juba for 3 days last July, between 80 and 100 government soldiers killed approximately 300 people across the city. They attacked a hotel compound where aid workers were housed, where they raped at least five international aid workers after UN peacekeepers failed to respond to their telephone calls, according to a subsequent UN inquiry. There are about 12 000 soldiers and 2000 police with the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), who will be joined by up to 4000 soldiers from east Africa later this year as part of a UN-authorised regional protection force with a stronger mandate to protect civilians. UNMISS has come under much criticism for failing to protect people, but most observers say without them, the situation would be much worse. They have protected some 220 000 South Sudanese who have fled to UN bases across the country since 2013. These camps, known as Protection of Civilian sites, offer security but life is hard in the tents and shacks where the people live. There are two camps close to the UN headquarters in Juba where just under 40 000 people live and receive basic food and health services from agencies such as Concern Worldwide, the lead nutrition partner.

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