This July marks the four-year anniversary of independence in South Sudan. However, in its current state there remains very little to celebrate in the young country.
Since fighting broke out in December 2013, thousands of civilians have been killed, and an estimated 2 million people have been displaced, including more than 600,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. According to the latest report from food security experts and in light of increased violence and displacement in recent weeks, the number of people facing severe food insecurity has almost doubled since the start of the year from 2.5 million to an estimated 4.6 million people, including approximately 874,000 children under the age of five.
This reality is unacceptable. And President Obama should seize upon the global media attention surrounding his trip to the Horn of Africa to galvanize political support and move the currently moribund peace process ahead.
InterAction members are committed to providing humanitarian assistance in an impartial manner to all in need. As humanitarians we are deeply concerned at conflict continuing with no end in sight. Basic services such as water, food, health services, and protection are critically needed. Displaced people both inside South Sudan as well as those who have fled to neighboring countries face dire needs. In the capital city of Juba, cholera has broken out, with more than 700 cases since June. Across the country, fighting has continued.
Meanwhile, access to civilians who need assistance has only gotten worse. Both the government and the opposition fail to consider the needs of their own people as they promote a violent power struggle. As the conflict drags on -- and becomes more widespread -- South Sudan now faces a potential economic collapse. Sources of public revenue continue to dry up and rates of inflation are increasing at a breakneck pace. The result is a weakening of families’ purchasing power, an undermining of traders’ ability to deliver essential supplies to markets, and exponential increases in the costs of the humanitarian aid effort. Without access to food assistance, we may see famine. The Famine Early Warning System Network has warned that poor households in conflict-affected areas including Unity and Upper Nile States will likely experience catastrophic levels of food insecurity.
The recent expulsion of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator was emblematic of a government whose choices have put the needs of the people of South Sudan behind its own political interests. Investigators have warned of "widespread human rights abuses." The Southern Sudanese government has reacted by expelling an additional UN official, further undermining the perception of their willingness to acknowledge their role in the conflict.
The United States has generously provided assistance since the start of the conflict and is the single largest humanitarian donor in South Sudan. Most importantly, the people of South Sudan have once again shown their resilience and ability to cope with such harsh circumstances. As the conflict progresses with no end in sight, there is a growing recognition that while humanitarian assistance has pulled millions back from the brink of disease and starvation, in the end, it is only a band-aid to the fundamental root cause of the crisis. The real solution will come when there is a lasting peace agreement between the parties to the conflict.
The commitment of humanitarian NGOs to remain and serve is strong. Political actors must do their part to strengthen a peace process that has been mired in broken peace treaties and agreements. This includes ensuring that all parties to the conflict provide unimpeded access to the humanitarian agencies providing assistance to all civilians impacted by the ongoing conflict.
The United States has a historical connection to South Sudan, both through its role in the peace process and through the independence vote and birth of the country. And as the world's eyes turn to the Horn of Africa, President Obama should seize this unique moment to both reenergize the peace process as well as underscore the ongoing commitment of the American people and many others around the globe who stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan as they call for peace.
Samuel A. Worthington is president and CEO of InterAction, the nation's largest alliance of U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations working internationally. InterAction leads, supports, and mobilizes its members to take collective action, improve the impact of their programs, increase their global reach, and advocate for efforts that advance human well-being around the world.
Follow Samuel A. Worthington on Twitter: @SamInterAction