Statement to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan
NEW YORK, United States of America, December 8, 2017-Mareeg-Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock:
This is my first briefing to the Security Council on South Sudan and I would like to focus on four issues: the humanitarian outlook for the coming months, humanitarian access constraints, current aid delivery, and the help we seek from the Council to guarantee free and consistent access to all those who need humanitarian assistance and protection. I agree with – and will try not to repeat – what was said by Jean-Pierre.
On Tuesday, we released the South Sudan Humanitarian Needs Overview for 2018. The conclusions of this comprehensive assessment of needs are bleak: even though more than 2 million people have fled South Sudan as refugees over the past four years of conflict, 7 million people inside the country – that is almost two-thirds of the remaining population – still need humanitarian assistance. About 1.9 million people are internally displaced, of whom some 210,000 seek safety in the Protection of Civilians sites located on UNMISS bases.
According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification released by the Government of South Sudan and food security partners a month ago, the number of severely food insecure people has steadily increased with each successive year of the conflict. As we approach the end of 2017, 1.25 million people are in the emergency phase of food insecurity – that is almost twice as many people who are just one step away from famine as was the case at the same time last year. In early 2018, half of the population will be reliant on emergency food aid. The next lean season beginning in March is likely again to see famine conditions in several locations across the country.
The massive and debilitating needs do not stop with hunger. Only one in ten people currently has access to basic sanitation which helps prevent deadly diseases. Only half of the country’s schools are functioning and 2 million children are currently out of school. In one household in two, a woman or girl experienced gender-based violence in the past year, according to the IOM [International Organization for Migration]. A study released by the International Rescue Committee underscored the high levels of violence, with many incidents directly related to a raid, displacement or abduction. Reported rates of violence against women and girls in South Sudan are double the global average and among the highest in the world.
Secondly, on access Mr. President, the suffering faced by civilians in South Sudan is primarily the result of actions by the parties in their conduct of the conflict. The alarming level of food insecurity, for example, is directly linked to restrictions on people’s freedom of movement, their access to humanitarian assistance and their ability to plant or to harvest. The impact of conflict on agricultural production is particularly severe in the Greater Equatorias, which was typically a surplus-food producing area before the conflict, but is now seeing production deficits due to insecurity and related access challenges. Most farmers from the most productive area along the border with Uganda are now in refugee camps inside Uganda.
The recent rainy season did not see the usual lull in fighting, nor a respite in humanitarian need. Now with the beginning of the dry season and ahead of the anticipated peace talks between parties this month, military offences have further intensified in the recent days, especially in Jonglei’s Ayod county, Unity’s Leer and Mayendit counties, and Western Equatoria’s Greater Mundri – all forcing more civilians to flee these areas in search of safety and the essentials to survive.
Protection of civilians remains a key concern. Violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses continue to be perpetrated by both the SPLA and SPLM/A-in-Opposition. I remind all parties that they must take constant care to spare civilians and the infrastructure they rely on.
The suffering is also both a cause and a consequence of the economic situation which continues to deteriorate, as Jean-Pierre said. Many government workers have not been paid in months. The brutal reality of the economic situation puts food out of reach for many, further undermines people’s livelihoods, reduces the provision of even the most basic services such as health and education, and increases criminality especially in urban areas. Civilians’ safety is at risk and humanitarian organisations face an increasing number of armed robberies and looting of convoys. Just last week in Jonglei, around 2.3 metric tons of food was looted from a humanitarian warehouse. Such actions are perpetrated both by parties to the conflict and by criminal groups for economic benefits.
Aid workers are paying with their lives to deliver assistance. At least 95 humanitarian workers have been killed in the line of duty since the start of the conflict; and at least 28 of them this year alone. More than 90 per cent of them are national staff, who form the backbone of the humanitarian response. Jean-Pierre mentioned the horrific attack in Jonglei last week. That’s just one example of the violence aid workers face and five aid workers were killed in that attack.