The ICRC’s Robert Mardini, who visited South Sudan last week, called it “one of the most complex humanitarian crises anywhere”. And he said “now we see alarmingly a serious shortage of food and the mostly immeasurable prevalence of COVID-19, which makes the already catastrophic situation even worse.”
Although hostilities between the main parties may have ceased or been reduced, Mardini told the Associated Press that “fighting with smaller parties and partisan groups and between communities, unfortunately, continues to cause death, destruction and displacement.”
Visiting the Akabo County Hospital in the eastern state of Jonglei, which serves close to 200,000 people, Mardini said he saw several people recovering from gunshot wounds, including children. He said they are victims of inter-municipal violence that is endemic to the country and the result of historical rivalry, often over livestock and land, but sometimes because of political agendas orchestrated from the capital.
The injuries of other patients were much less obvious as they were victims of rape and sexual assault, which escalated into conflict, and several children were treated for malnutrition and some from malaria at the same time, Mardini said in an online interview from Switzerland on Wednesday .
“These cases are just the tip of the iceberg,” Mardini said. “Our latest estimate shows that last year’s harvest was approximately half of that in the previous year in nine out of 10 countries.
“And that fragility is due not only to the conflict, but also to the impact of the current crisis and catastrophes of epic proportions, last year’s floods that affected over a million people, and the state of Jonglei was one of the hardest hit,” he said.
Mardini said Red Cross workers in the field see that many communities, especially those whose people have been displaced from their homes, have little or no access to food, safe drinking water or health care.
“There is no doubt that the current crisis is on the verge of slipping into something very frightening,” Mardini warned.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday at a UN Security Council meeting on the conflict-driven famine that in South Sudan, “chronic sporadic violence, extreme weather conditions and the economic impact of COVID-19 have pushed more than 7 million people into acute food insecurity, ”the highest level since the country declared independence from Sudan 10 years ago.
Food prices are so high, Guterres said, “that just one plate of rice and beans costs more than 180% of the average daily wage – which is about $ 400 here in New York.”
World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the council he visited western Pibor County in early February and heard in recent days that “in extreme circumstances, mothers resort to feeding their children the skin of dead animals – or even mud.”
“This is a desperate situation that requires urgent attention,” he said. “The local population calls 2021 the ‘year of famine.’ And their suffering is the result of widespread conflict and unprecedented floods that occurred in 2019 and 2020. These people are in the crossfire of the conflict as they bear the burden of the climate crisis. “
The ICRC’s Mardini said solutions to South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis must come from its leaders “and a commitment to securing lasting peace”, but even then the road to recovery and development will be long and urgent humanitarian needs must be addressed now.
The UN has called for $ 5.5 billion immediately to avoid a multiple famine affecting 34 million people in more than three dozen countries, including South Sudan.
The Security Council is expected to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan on Friday from nearly 20,000 members to one year. The draft resolution says its mandate will be “to advance a three-year strategic vision to prevent a return to civil war”, to build peace at the national and local levels and to “support inclusive and responsible governance and free, fair and peaceful elections.”
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