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Pledging solidarity with the people of South Sudan

Posted by Josephine Liebl Humanitarian Policy Advisor

12th Jun 2015

A family camping out in Ahou village, Mingkaman county, Lakes state, April 2014. Credit: Pablo Tosco/ Oxfam

By July 4.6 million people in South Sudan's could be severely food insecure. On 16 June an aid pledging conference is being held in Geneva. Here Josephine Liebl explains why donor governments should learn from the solidarity shown by South Sudan's people, and makes the case for aid that leads to long term change.

When I visited South Sudan in February this year, I was struck by the solidarity of its people, who have endured immense hardship and suffering since conflict broke out in December 2013.

Of the 1.5 million people that are internally displaced, many are supported by host communities who share their scarce resources with whole families who have had to flee their home due to conflict. Less than ten percent of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are currently seeking protection in sites supported by the UN peacekeeping force, UNMISS. Others have been forced to flee to parts of South Sudan where it is increasingly hard for them to access humanitarian assistance, having been displaced two, three or even more times as conflict spreads and frontlines shift. Humanitarian needs were immense even before fighting intensified over the last couple of months which, according to the UN has resulted in "alarming gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law".

South Sudan has always been vulnerable to food shortages and has been at risk of hunger gaps between harvests even prior to the outbreak of conflict. Since conflict started, access to food and livelihoods has severely deteriorated and we are now seeing one of the world's worst food crises. According to the latest figures, there will be 4. 6 million people severely food insecure by July, equivalent to 40% of South Sudan's population. In addition to the conflict, South Sudan's urban poor are being hit hard by a deteriorating economic situation, which has seen the cost of basic goods skyrocket, and left some areas with a shortage of flour and water.

the admirable solidarity I have seen among South Sudan's people is not matched by international attention on the country Despite these pressing needs, the admirable solidarity I have seen among South Sudan's people is not matched by international attention on the country, which instead is waning. Today, the UN appeal for South Sudan, the amount of money necessary to respond according to the level of need, is only 37 percent funded. The refugee appeal, which seeks to assist the over half a million refugees in neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda stands at 11 percent funded.

The UN's and EU's humanitarian agencies are convening a conference on 16 June in Geneva to encourage governments to provide the necessary support for the humanitarian response by pledging contributions to the UN appeals. The Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer, who was recently expelled from the country, has set a $600 million fundraising target for the conference.

As governments consider their pledges in a time of tightened humanitarian budgets, they should act upon the lesson that South Sudan has taught us: investment in humanitarian assistance and support to the people of South Sudan works.

In 2014, Oxfam and 35 other INGOs warned about the deteriorating food security situation in South Sudan and highlighted the strong causal link between the conflict and acute hunger in South Sudan. Due to the concerted efforts of donors and humanitarian agencies, who pledged, released and delivered assistance including support to livelihoods across the country, people managed to push themselves back from the brink. Similarly, in 2015, fifteen areas of South Sudan would have been classified as emergency level food insecure, had it not been for humanitarian assistance.

Support to South Sudan is not only a question of the level of funding, but also what type of funding is made available. In a situation of protracted conflict in which displacement of civilians and instability is likely to continue, it is important that funding programmes have the necessary flexibility to adapt to changes in the context. To respond to this and invest in the resilience of the people of South Sudan, donors should:

  • support responses that strengthen communities own coping strategies and local systems rather than only short-term projects that aim at survival
  • provide opportunities for people to rebuild and diversify their livelihood options, and re-establish markets where possible
  • invest in longer term development including agricultural support and essential services such as health and education in less conflict-affected areas

The people of South Sudan have been betrayed by their leaders who have caused this man-made crisis. South Sudan's international partners and regional governments have a responsibility to step up their diplomatic efforts and apply all necessary pressure on conflict parties to stop the violence immediately and agree an inclusive peaceful resolution.

The UK and other donors who supported the birth of the world's newest nation should use the opportunity of the conference on 16th June to show their solidarity with the people of South Sudan by:

  • contributing a fair share to the UN appeal and
  • ensuring that money pledged is swiftly released so that life saving assistance can reach people before the situation deteriorates further.

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Photo: A family camping out in Ahou village, Mingkaman county, Lakes state, April 2014. Credit: Pablo Tosco/ Oxfam

Blog post written by Josephine Liebl

Humanitarian Policy Advisor

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