JUBA, 1 April 2014 –The heads of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Refugee agency (UNHCR) today warned that the crisis in South Sudan could endanger millions of lives in the coming months if urgent action is not taken to put an end to the conflict and support the civilians who are struggling to survive.
At the end of a two-day visit to South Sudan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and WFP’s Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said everyone – humanitarian agencies, donors and parties to the conflict – has a responsibility to see that civilians affected by the violence are able to receive help. They called on the parties to the conflict to spare no effort to bring about peace, and on the international community to make additional resources available to assist those most affected.
“Women we met in Nyal who have been affected by the conflict asked us to convey three messages to the world: they need peace, assistance to relieve their suffering, and the chance for their children to return to school,” said Ms. Cousin. “Ordinary people are bearing the brunt of this conflict, and agencies like ours are facing far too many obstacles in trying to assist them. This must change. Lives are at stake.”
The heads of the two UN agencies noted that the humanitarian community faces twin obstacles in trying to provide urgently needed assistance to internally displaced people, refugees, and other vulnerable groups. They expressed concern that a mix of insecurity and other direct impediments to humanitarian access, as well as severe funding shortages for aid agencies, may combine to leave far too many people cut off from assistance as the conflict continues to wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods.
“It is essential that the international community urgently comes together and does everything possible for the parties to forge peace,” said Mr. Guterres. “It is tragic to see former refugees who returned with so much hope once again fleeing for their lives.”
During their trip to South Sudan, the two UN agency heads met with people displaced by the conflict who have taken shelter in the remote town of Nyal, in Unity State, where both the local community and an estimated 25,000 IDPs have struggled to access food and other basic necessities and where agencies including WFP have now begun distributing assistance. They also visited with IDPs sheltering at a UN peacekeeping base in Juba in dismal conditions.
The two agency chiefs discussed the crisis with President Salva Kiir and other government officials, and received the President’s commitment to facilitate and support humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need. They also met with donor representatives and other members of the humanitarian community.
On Wednesday, they depart for Ethiopia, where they will meet some of the more than 80,000 refugees who have sought shelter there since the crisis began.
More than 800,000 people have been displaced in South Sudan by the conflict, which began on 15 December 2013. This includes 68,000 people who are sheltering in UN peacekeeping bases. Another 254,000 refugees have crossed into neighbouring countries seeking shelter and food. Additionally, South Sudan was also hosting some 220,000 refugees from Sudan in camps close to conflict areas.
In the more than 100 days since the start of the conflict more than half a million people have received food assistance inside the country, but continued conflict, combined with the onset of the rainy season has made it difficult to reach many people in need. The relief effort has been further hampered by a severe lack of funds.
An inter-agency appeal led by UNHCR is calling for more than USD 370 million to fund the refugee response in Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of Sudan and Uganda. Inside South Sudan, WFP is facing a funding shortfall of USD 224 million over the next six months, while humanitarian partners require a further USD42 million for shelter and other non-food items.
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WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. On average, WFP reaches more than 90 million people with food assistance in 80 countries each year.
UNHCR leads and co-ordinates international action to protect refugees and safeguard their rights and work for their well-being.