Date Published: 3 March 2014
Fighting in South Sudan adversely affects 100,000s children
New and continuing fighting between government and opposition forces in South Sudan is severely hampering humanitarian efforts to help displaced children. Even though the two sides in the conflict signed a ceasefire agreement in January, ongoing violence has resulted in many South Sudanese fleeing from their homes, in some cases to neighbouring Ethiopia.
United Nations childrens' organization UNICEF has said that this emergency situation risks becoming overwhelming. Approaching 900,000 people ? half of them children ? have already been forced from their homes it seems likely that the new outbreaks of fighting will displace tens of thousands more people.
"We are working to stave off disaster," said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF's Director of Emergency Programmes,
"People are continuing to flee their homes in the face of fierce fighting and terrible violence. South Sudan's dream risks becoming a nightmare for the country's children."
Fighting between Government and opposition forces has increased in recent weeks. Following heavy clashes and reports of people being killed in churches and hospitals in the northern town of Malakal in February, fighting has spread further north in Upper Nile state. There are now fears that 30,000 or more civilians may be freshly displaced.
"Already there are hundreds of thousands of women, children and men with limited access to safe drinking water, sanitation, nutrition and shelter," said UNICEF's Chaiban. "Under such conditions, children are especially vulnerable to disease outbreaks and severe food insecurity."
The continued violence in South Sudan has massively disrupted livelihoods as families and livestock have been displaced, households looted and markets destroyed, with regular aid interrupted, putting more than 3.7 million people at risk of severe food insecurity as well as disease outbreaks and acute malnutrition.
There are widespread reports of grave violations of humanitarian law, with the effects of the conflict on children particularly devastating. Over the past two months, girls and boys have been killed, maimed, raped, orphaned, recruited into armed groups, and made homeless.
" UNICEF staff have personally witnessed the aftermath of atrocities," said Chaiban. " There can be no excuse or justification for this violence. Children and civilians should be protected under international law, but as the violence continues, we see further outrages."
In the opinion of some such aid workers, the only chance of resolution of the present crisis is through political dialogue. Ted Chaiban (UNICEF's Director of Emergency Programmes) went on to stress that due to rains expected soon, the situation is very much a race against time. "Fighting needs to stop and financial support to the response must be accelerated so that humanitarian agencies, including UNICEF, can access children in need, pre-position supplies and strengthen services ahead of the rains" he said.
Aid workers are using the opportunity of periods of relative stability to reach displaced people in different parts of South Sudan with supplies of fresh water and sanitation as well as health and nutrition services. UNICEF and its partners are also trying to trace children who have become separated from their families and providing psychosocial support where possible. In areas where there are large groups of displaced families provisions are being made for basic education facilities (education in the news), which is a vital step for children whose lives have been so traumatically disrupted.
UNICEF has appealed for $75 USD million to help South Sudan's displaced people during the first six months of 2014. A positive response is urgently needed so that much-needed supplies can be pre-positioned ahead of the rainy seaso during which many of the rural roads become impassable.