Millions face death, hunger in South Sudan, Somalia as conflicts bring on crises

Forgotten: Weary donors have lost appetite for writing big cheques. They cling on the few bits of good news, and don’t want to know the worst

Millions of people are at famine risk, forgotten in the focus on political settlements even as the United Nations put out its bowl seeking money to deal with the threat. 

South Sudan and Somalia remain caught up the throes of conflict, the dynamics of which have put millions at risk. 

On Saturday the UN launched an appeal for funds, seeking over a billion dollars to support almost four million people hit by the fighting in South Sudan.

Aid agency Oxfam’s chief for South Sudan Emma Jane Drew said Sunday that the conflict had destroyed the livelihoods of millions in that country. “The people of South Sudan have been exposed to a triple crisis-conflict, hunger and disease - and with the rains now in full swing, the situation only stands to deteriorate,” she said. 

“If we are to avoid a famine in South Sudan, the time to act is now,” Oxfam added.

The UN’s aid chief for South Sudan Toby Lanzer corroborated the deteriorating situation. 

“Cholera has broken out, malaria is rampant and many children are malnourished. Millions of people need emergency healthcare, food, clean water, proper sanitation and shelter to make it through the year,” he said.

A cholera outbreak was declared in May.

The red flag comes just days after warring South Sudan leaders agreed to share power in a deal that, while welcomed, has been met with a large dose of skepticism. 

Rivals buying time
President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar last week inked another peace deal, which provides for a transitional government in two months.

Analysts say in the wake of other peace deals having been disregarded, it is possible the rivals may be buying time, in the belief that a battlefield victory is still possible. 

The duo had been under immense pressure from the international community, including key mediators the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) who appeared to have lost patience with the prevarication by both sides.

IGAD executive secretary Mahboub Maalim said the rivals were “stupid” if they felt their best chance of peace was a military situation. 

It is a comment that has not gone down well, with the South Sudan government threatening to abandon the mediation effort by IGAD,  while other mediators reportedly disowned the statement

But lost in the political intrigue is the desperate plight of millions in Africa’s youngest nation.

Children, rape survivors
Thousands have been killed by the fighting that broke out on December 15 2013 and which pitted forces allied to the two leaders. 

Another 1.5 million have been displaced by the conflict, with neighbouring countries creaking under the weight of streaming South Sudanese refugees. 

The UN says more than seven million South Sudanese are at risk of hunger and famine, nearly 70% of the country’s estimate population.

Among the hardest hit are children and rape survivors, with the UN saying a t least 50,000 children could die at the end of this year

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has released a $1.8-billion plan that plans to assist 3.8-million people by the end of the year.

So far only $740-million of this money has been met, leaving a hole of over $1 billion. A donor conference in May in Oslo saw a mixed response, with only half of the 41 countries that attended pledging new money. 

The UN has also noted the role of aid agencies, which it said have reached 1.9-million people so far.    The scary South Sudan scenario is replicated in Somalia, where aid agencies have also warned of the risk of famine, bringing in echoes of the 2011 disaster when some 260,000 people died.

New challenges
The 22,000 strong African Union Mission in Somalia has played up a series of recent battlefield gains in an offensive against the militant Al-Shabaab extremist group, but aid organisations say this has brought new challenges.

The push to dislodge the Shabaab from their strongholds had not led to “led to a substantial improvement in the daily lives of the people of Somalia,”  Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, told the Security Council on June 4 2013.

The Al Shabaab militants have resorted to “encirclement”—blocking the access and aid supply routes to the newly-liberated towns, in a message to Amisom troops that their gains were restricted to the urban areas.

The group remains powerful in large parts of central and southern Somalia, specifically the rural areas and outskirts of the main town.

Following poor rainfall over the last two seasons in Somalia, the harvest is expected to be low, exacerbating the situation. Close to 900,000 Somalis require aid assistance, while another 2-million are living on the fringes of food insecurity, the UN says.

Only one-fifth of the $933-million appeal for Somalia is funded, and donors are cutting down support, as the conflict drops off the headlines. 

Remittances lifeline
Remittances, a key lifeline for the Somali population, have also been threatened with multinational banks moving to close down accounts of player companies as they are seen as a high risk for illegal activities.

Somalia established a federal government in 2012 after decades of civil war, and while there have been small gains since, the overall picture remains fragile given the threat of Al-Shabaab, which is fighting to topple the administration. 

UNICEF says 50,000 Somali children are also at risk of dying from severe malnutrition, while another 3-million could miss out on primary healthcare due to the funding crunch. 

A preliminary appeal for the Oromia, Afar and Somali regions of Ethiopia was also issued in April, with close to 600,000 thought to need food aid. 

Some 13-million people across the Horn of Africa were affected by extreme drought in 2011.

Aid agencies are calling for the plight of millions in the Horn of Africa drought not to be buried under the gains on the political front.


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