(Newsroom America) -- Recently returned from a three-day visit to South Sudan, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien painted a grave picture of the enormous humanitarian crisis facing the world’s newest country and the devastating impact of the ongoing violence on its people.
“Let me be clear: people in South Sudan are not just fleeing their homes because they need food, shelter or medical care and school for their children. They are fleeing [because they] fear for their lives,” said Mr O’Brien.
“We must protect them, and we must save their lives,” he stressed.
The humanitarian situation in the country has witnessed significant deterioration, including in areas that were once relatively stable. Since December 2013, over two million people have fled their homes. Some 1.6 million are displaced within South Sudan and more than 900,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.
The situation has worsened since clashes between rival forces – the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and the SPLA in Opposition backing First Vice-President Riek Machar – erupted in and around the capital, Juba, on 7 July, close to the fifth anniversary of the country's independence.
UN compounds and civilian protection sites managed by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) were attacked during the fighting, and, according to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, a preliminary UN investigation into the recent fighting and its aftermath revealed that Government security forces carried out killings and rapes, and looted and destroyed properties.
Over the last month alone, some 70,000 South Sudanese crossed the border into Uganda as refugees.
Moreover, some 4.8 million people across the country are facing severe food insecurity and 250,000 children are severely malnourished. To add to the suffering, the country is also battling a cholera outbreak.
In this course of his visit, Mr. O’Brien travelled to Wau and Aweil, two places that were not long ago considered as beacons of hope for their prospects for development.
Now, Wau is mired in severe conflict and Aweil is suffering its worst food insecurity in years. “The situations that I saw in Wau and Aweil are […] emblematic of the devastating fate that has befallen this country,” noted Mr. O’Brien.
While in the country, Mr. O’Brien who is also the UN Under-Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs met with President Kiir, as well as other top Government officials.
“I expressed in clear terms my shock and dismay at the appalling reports of violations committed against civilians during fighting in recent months, including in Juba,” said Mr. O’Brien adding that, in particular, he condemned the heinous acts of sexual violence carried out against women and girls, including by members of the armed forces.
Recalling that 57 aid workers have been killed in the country since December 2013, Mr. O’Brien stressed, “This is unacceptable and unconscionable. I urged the President to take immediate action to end the impunity that has prevailed to date.”