3.7 million at risk of starvation in S. Sudan food crisis

The U.N. said if funding is not made available to aid groups, millions of people will face catastrophic decline in food security.

3.7 million at risk of starvation in S. Sudan food crisis

World Bulletin / News Desk

International aid agencies operating in South Sudan are warning of dire humanitarian consequences if urgently needed funds fail to materialize in coming weeks.

"The South Sudan Crisis Response Plan, which covers January to June 2014, is only 30-percent funded," Sue Lautze, head of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in South Sudan, told a Thursday press briefing at the U.N. compound in Juba.

"Of the $887 million shortfall in funding, $232 million is the bare minimum required for the next three months to avoid the humanitarian situation deteriorating sharply," she said.

"The needed funding will enable rapid response teams to provide life-saving aid – including food, health, nutrition, water and sanitation – to communities in hard-to-reach areas," the FAO official said.

"It will also enable agencies to pre-position relief in these areas ahead of the imminent rainy season, so that life-saving aid continues to be available to people during the second half of this year, when two thirds of the country becomes inaccessible by road," she added.

According to Lautze, almost one million people have been displaced by the conflict, including over 803,000 inside South Sudan.

"More than 90 percent of those displaced in the country are in open or rural settings. [They] often seek refuge in hard to access locations without food, clean water or shelter," she noted.

"If donor funding is not made available now, we will be unable to meet the most basic needs to keep people alive or prevent a catastrophic decline in food security for millions of people at risk later in the year," the FAO official warned.

South Sudan has been shaken by violence since last December, when President Salva Kiir accused sacked vice president Riek Machar of attempting to overthrow his regime.

The conflict has already claimed more than 10,000 lives, with the U.N. estimating that some 3.7 million people in the war-torn country were now "severely food insecure."

U.N. refutes S. Sudan arms claims, slams hostility

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has reiterated its impartiality in that country's ongoing conflict and refuted accusations leveled by the Juba government regarding recently-seized arms and weapons.

"UNMISS is not taking sides in the conflict," Hilde Johnson, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general and head of UNMISS, told a Thursday press briefing.

"While we cooperate fully with the democratically elected government of South Sudan in accordance with our mandate, the mission has remained and will remain impartial in the current military conflict as instructed by the [U.N.] Security Council," she said.

The U.N. mission chief denied accusations that the mission was arming Machar's rebels.

"It is also important to make it clear that allegations that have recently been made against UNMISS were completely unfounded," Johnson told reporters.

"The high-level investigation team from New York has confirmed that there were no landmines or anti-aircraft missiles in the cargo," she said.

"They verified that the weapons did belong to the Ghanaian Battalion, and that there was no evidence or indication of any intention of support by individuals of UNMISS to the opposition forces," Johnson added.

"We appreciate that the government, as a result of their own review, yesterday released the cargo, including arms and ammunition to UNMISS," said the U.N. official.

She also complained of continuing hostility towards the U.N. mission and its staff "on the ground."

"At the same time, while the hostile rhetoric against UNMISS by some individuals has subsided, our operations – and those of the humanitarian agencies – are still encountering serious challenges on the ground," Johnson said.

"This includes harassment and abuse by security forces at checkpoints, interference with freedom of movement and denial of access," she added.

The U.N. official went on to cite more than 35 such incidents against UNMISS staff and operations in recent weeks.

"Such threats and attacks constitute violations of international law. We ask that the perpetrators of such acts do not remain unpunished and [that they] be held accountable," she said.

Rights abuses

The U.N. mission chief also condemned ongoing humanitarian abuses in the country.

"UNMISS condemns the continuing perpetration of human rights abuses in the strongest possible terms and calls on all parties to the current crisis to desist from committing additional atrocities," she said.

"So far, investigators have faced several challenges from both parties in gathering information in some of the areas that have allegedly been scenes of violations," Johnson added.

"This is not acceptable," she asserted. "We urge all parties to the conflict to fully cooperate and facilitate human rights investigations."

Last Mod: 04 Nisan 2014, 10:17
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