The top United Nations humanitarian official today called on the international community to provide more funding to prevent the crisis in southern Sudan, a region already beset by food insecurity, displacements and inter-tribal violence, from spiralling into real disaster.
“Too much has been invested to let this happen. We must not underestimate the urgency of the situation,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said on the second day of a visit to southern Sudan which is scheduled to hold a referendum on independence early next year as part of a 2005 peace accord that ended 20 years of civil war with the northern-based national Government.
“If humanitarian needs are allowed to spiral further, stability could be jeopardized at a critical time,” he added after reviewing projects in the town of Wau town and travelling to Juba, the regional capital, for meetings with Riek Machar, the Vice-President of the Government of Southern Sudan, UN officials and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working there.
In Wau, he visited a Catholic primary health-care centre, one of the few in the area, which provides nutrition services to some 150 to 250 children per day, as well as antenatal care, tuberculosis treatment, vaccinations and emergency care with support from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
Health and nutrition conditions in Western Bahr el Ghazal state, in line with averages across Southern Sudan, are consistently above acceptable emergency thresholds, and basic access to services like health and education is severely limited. The Salesian Sisters who run the centre want to expand the project but lack funding to create 10 more centres in the state.
“The international community needs to be on alert that there is a serious crisis here,” Mr. Holmes said. “If we can react in time and act together, we can prevent a crisis from turning into a real disaster, but these efforts need more funding behind them.”
The state has suffered border violence between Government troops of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and the Rizeigat tribe in April, and the notorious Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) is also a looming threat.
A recent assessment by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) confirmed that less food is being produced in Southern Sudan than at any time since the 2005 peace accord. In areas where aid groups have been able to conduct assessments, malnutrition rates are alarming. In Pibor, Jonglei state, where 10 WFP workers were forced to withdraw this week due to increasing violence, admission of malnutrition patients trebled in the first two months of the year.
“We agreed on the need to step up the response and the Government will be contributing a further $35 million for food security,” Mr. Holmes said after his talks with Mr. Machar. “At the same time, the Government’s commitment to supporting basic services, promoting food production and ensuring security for the civilian population is critical.”
Tomorrow he travels to Darfur to visit a settlement for displaced people and meet with Government officials, UN agencies and NGOs in a region where seven years of war between military forces and rebel groups have killed some 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million more from their homes. Then he travels to Khartoum, the capital, to confer with the Government.
Mr. Holmes arrived in Sudan on Wednesday after visiting neighbouring Chad during which he toured a region in the east where tens of thousands of people have been displaced by inter-communal fighting and a spill-over of the Darfur conflict.