UN: 'Humanitarian perfect storm' brewing in Southern Sudan

Spiraling inter-tribal conflict, a massive food shortage and a budget crisis have converged to create a humanitarian emergency in southern Sudan, putting at least 40 percent of the local population at risk, a senior United Nations official warned yesterday.

A “humanitarian perfect storm” is how Lise Grande, the UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in the region, described it during a news conference in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

“Southern Sudan is facing an almost unmanageable set of problems,” she said. “A lot of good work is being done… despite this, we just can’t keep up.”

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA runs the Kajo Keji Education and Community Development program in Southern Sudan. The program aims to to develop the school, community, and government capacity necessary to ensure that quality education is provided as a basic right to school aged children, with an emphasis on girls’ education, through management and technical support to schools and school officials, teacher training, structural improvements to school facilities, the distribution of school materials, and activities encouraging the involvement of the local community in support of education.

Southern Sudan was the scene of one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil wars, in which at least two million people were killed, until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the recent flare-up of inter-tribal fighting is jeopardizing the stability of the entire country and putting at risk key milestones of the CPA.

According to Ms. Grande, inter-tribal conflicts are increasing in number and intensity. Since January, more than 2,000 people have died in inter-tribal violence and more than 250,000 people have been displaced across southern Sudan, she noted.

The region also faces an acute food shortage brought about by a combination of delayed seasonal rains, widespread insecurity and high food prices. In addition, the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) is tackling a “massive” budget gap owing to the global financial crisis and the drop in oil prices.

“Probably no other Government in the region has suffered as much from the global meltdown as southern Sudan, which has lost a staggering 40 per cent of the revenues it expected,” said Ms. Grande. “As a result many of the plans that the GoSS had made with the international partners, the UN agencies and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] have had to be shelved.”

The situation has left 1.2 million people dependent on food assistance from the UN World Food Program (WFP) and is made worse by a lack of funding for humanitarian work, she added.

Ms. Grande stated that $85 million is the bare minimum needed just to keep people alive in southern Sudan, where more than 90 per cent of the population lives on less than $1 per day, 97 per cent has no access to sanitation, and one out of seven women who become pregnant will probably die of pregnancy-related complications.

While there are many constraints in southern Sudan, she said two of the most difficult are access and capacity. Presently, there is less than 200 kilometers of paved road in the whole region. “At the best of times, we have access to only 40 percent of the areas we need to get to. During the rainy season, we lose even this,” she stated.

“In terms of capacity, the point is that there isn’t enough,” she said, whether it is on the part of the Government, UN agencies or NGOs.

“The GoSS is making Herculean efforts, the NGOs are doing fantastic work, the UN agencies are operating around the clock, but all of us are stretched to the limit – we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough staff and because of these constraints we are not moving out of the emergency fast enough.”

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