BRUSSELS, 3. DEC, 17:27
The EU and other donors are being pressed to front-load money to stave off starvation in South Sudan amid a troubled ceasefire among warring factions.
The insecurity has humanitarian aid workers on guard following revelations last week of the mass rape of some 125 women and girls on a road leading to a World Food Programme (WFP) distribution point at Bentiu, a village in the north of country.
Adnan Khan, WFP country director for South Sudan, told EUobserver on Monday (3 December) that the Bentiu food distribution was scheduled to take place later this week.
“They were assaulted, raped, looted, whipped, horrendous treatment,” he said.
“Despite peace, despite the agreements between the commanders, despite everything, in the week when the international humanitarian community is sort of celebrating a week of no violence against women, we have mass rape, torture,” he added.
The survivors, who were attacked by armed bandits, are now being treated.
But the incident – a possible war crime – highlights broader problems in a country wrecked by five years of brutal civil war, resulting in some 2 million refugees and 1.7 million internally displaced people.
Amid the violence is a shaky two-month ceasefire – and a population that heavily depends on international aid.
Last year, the WFP declared famine in two counties in the country, around the same region where the women and girls were attacked.
The crisis was rendered even more severe following reports that arms were being shipped into the country from Ukraine.
At the time, a South Sudanese soldier had told this websitenear the Uganda border that he had trekked on foot for weeks in the search of food.
Humanitarian efforts on the ground have improved conditions somewhat with just over six million affected to varying degrees when comes to lack of access to food.
Although there is not enough people today concentrated in one area to declare an official famine, Khan said at least 47,000 people spread over seven counties are now starving.
“In a sense there is a wider dispersion of food insecurity in the country,” he said, when compared to last year.
He said many more people are now falling into an emergency category of food insecurity, the stage just below famine.
The task now is to ensure that the category doesn’t get bumped to famine stage but it means shoring up $662m [€582m] to stock up food supplies in around 50 sites throughout the country before the rainy season starts next May.
The WFP wants the food purchased, transported, and stored while roads are still accessible and then distributed during the rainy season when crops cannot be harvested.
If not, they will have to resort to the much more expensive alternative of air drops.
“There have been donors who have put in some money, so we have a visibility of some $357m but we are still short about $305m and we are actively asking donors,” said Khan.
Khan said fronting the money ahead of the normal budget cycles could also result in some $100m in savings.
The May deadline is also important because it is when a so-called pre-transitional period of a revitalised peace agreement comes to an end.
Khan’s appeal on Monday was directed towards the European Union.
The European Commission has over the five past years provided nearly €160m to the WFP for South Sudan.