South Sudan: Aid groups need $1.27 billion before rains hit

Jan 2014, Juba, South Sudan: A mother and her child at the UN base in Tomping, Juba. Close to 900,000 people have been displaced by fighting that started in mid-December. Aid groups estimate that 3.7 million people - a third of the population - are in need of humanitarian support. Credit: UNICEF
OCHA’s Head of Office in South Sudan warns of dire humanitarian consequences if more aid does not arrive to the country before rains make roads impassable.

Since it first sparked in mid-December, violence in South Sudan has spread to six of the country’s 10 states. In eight short weeks, close to 900,000 people have been displaced from their homes and thousands more are believed to have been killed or injured. An estimated 3.7 million people – about a third of South Sudan’s population – is in need of humanitarian assistance.

OCHA’s Head of Office in South Sudan, Vincent Lelei, warns of dire humanitarian consequences unless new funding and aid arrives ahead of the rainy season in April.

What are aid organizations doing to help people in conflict areas?

Vincent Lelei: Aid agencies mounted a rapid and large-scale response to the crisis. So far we have reached 300,000 people with assistance including food, clean water, medicine and shelter. We have provided close to 220,000 people with food rations. Some 40,000 families have received emergency household kits, containing mosquito nets, blankets and kitchen sets for cooking.

Measles and polio vaccination campaigns are underway to protect children from disease outbreaks. But there is much, much more to be done and many more people are in desperate need of our help.

What are the main challenges to reaching people in need?

VL: Reaching communities has been difficult largely because of the fighting. For example, in Bor in Jonglei State [in eastern South Sudan] it took 10 days to move food from an aid warehouse to a UN base that is normally only 40 minutes away. Thousands of people were sheltering at the base and they needed those supplies. Delivering aid in an environment like this is not easy.

Humanitarian needs are immense and are spread out across a country roughly the size of France. We need more funding to scale up assistance. Earlier this week we launched the new South Sudan Crisis Response Plan, appealing for $1.27 billion to respond to the humanitarian needs of 3.2 million people up until June.

This money will allow aid agencies to continue and to expand the provision of lifesaving relief for displaced people and host communities, refugees, and other communities whose lives are at immediate risk. The funding will also go towards prepositioning aid before the rainy season starts.

What will happen when the rainy season hits?

VL: During the rainy season – which usually runs from about April to October – about 60 per cent of roads become impassable. The aid operation will then have to rely on aircraft which is a slow and costly approach. That’s why it is so important to position relief items in warehouses across the country now, so we are not reliant on flying in aid during the rainy season.

Over 85,000 people are sheltering in UN bases despite the cessation of hostilities that was signed on 23 January. Why don’t they return home?

VL: People simply do not feel safe enough yet to return home. Reports continue to be received of fighting in several parts of the country. Fighting needs to stop to provide a safe environment for people to return to their homes, and rebuild their lives and livelihoods. In the meantime, we will continue to deliver assistance to people where they are sheltering. But we are worried that, when the rains arrive, some of the camps may flood, posing serious health threats.

What does the future hold for South Sudan?

VL: We hope that a political solution to the crisis will be found, so that hostilities subside and people return home. However, reconciliation between the parties to the conflict is just as important so that we do not see a repeat of the crisis down the line.

The people of South Sudan fought long and hard to see the independence of their country, and they deserve to live in peace and harmony.

OCHA in South Sudan>>

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