The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian affairs has urged warring parties in South Sudan to stop the fighting and protect aid workers who are risking their own lives to save others in the war-torn country.
During a visit to South Sudan, Mark Lowcock, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, met with Government representatives, Opposition leaders, humanitarian agencies, and those most affected by the conflict – many of whom have fled their homes and are relying on aid for survival.
Speaking at a press conference in Juba, he said the suffering of ordinary people was “unimaginable”.
“The peace process so far has produced nothing. The cessation of hostilities is a fiction. The economy has collapsed. Belligerents use scorched-earth tactics, murder and rape as weapons of war,” said Mark Lowcock. “All these are all gross violations of international law.”
Mark Lowcock, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, visited a UN protection site in the midst of the rainy season to meet with those suffering in atrocious conditions after seeking sanctuary from the violence.
A third of the South Sudanese population are displaced – 1.8 million internally while another 2.5 million have crossed borders to neighbouring countries.
The humanitarian situation is dire. Without sustained humanitarian assistance, more than 7.1 million people could become severely food insecure in the coming months while 1.7 million are on the brink of catastrophe.
Mark Lowcock also discussed the recent surge in violence in Unity with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, David Shearer.
“Our peacekeepers have been out as much as they possibly can to instill some calm and confidence around the place but, nevertheless, what we are seeing on the ground is truly horrific,” said David Shearer. “There are huts being burned, women are being raped, and children are being killed. People are so scared that they are fleeing to the swamps for safety or they have come to our base in Leer. About 2000 people are sitting right beside our base because it’s the only place they feel safe.”
The security situation for humanitarian workers is also deteriorating. In the last two months, four aid workers have been killed, taking the total killed since the conflict began in 2013 to more than 100. Most of those killed are citizens of South Sudan.
“The aid agencies are subject to harassment, extortion, looting, kidnappings, killings, predatory fees and levies and other blockages all over the country. Those things have a direct effect, reducing our ability to help people who need humanitarian assistance,” said the USG. “South Sudan is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be an aid worker and I want to pay tribute to their bravery. They take huge risks every day to deliver assistance.”
Despite the challenges, humanitarians are saving lives. Last year, agencies reached 5.4 million South Sudanese in need. However, the USG says that, without peace, the immense suffering will continue.