494 views | Akpan Akata | March 18, 2021
More than five million people in Nigeria’s volatile North-East region are at risk of acute hunger during the upcoming lean season, which is the worst outlook in four years, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
OCHA says conflict, displacement and the disruption of livelihoods from COVID-19 restrictions have made the situation worse.
Food shortages are particularly acute with insufficient funding already leading to ration cuts impacting hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Needs in the troubled region are greatest in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, where spokesperson for OCHA, Jens Laerke, said that there was a security incident “almost every week”.
To help 6.4 million of the most vulnerable people, including two million who are internally displaced, the UN humanitarian affairs office is requesting $1.00 billion from the international community.
This is even as hunger levels in South Sudan are deepening due to a combination of violence, climate change and COVID-19. The 2021 South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan has been launched, aiming to reach 6.6 million people – including 350,000 refugees – with life-saving assistance and protection.
In June 2018, United Nations emergency relief chief said people are suffering “on an almost unimaginable scale” in South Sudan, adding that he welcomed the announcement by the United States that it is to review the amount of assistance it provides to the war-torn country.
Speaking in Geneva, Mark Lowcock, who is also UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that five years of civil war had left 7.1 million people, or more than half the country’s population, in need of humanitarian aid.
Repeated negotiations have broken down to resolve fighting between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, including recent peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, held under the auspices of the African regional forum, IGAD.
“Things are still getting worse”, Lowcock told reporters in Geneva, highlighting “scorched earth tactics” by belligerents.
This had rendered formerly fertile areas of the country barren, amid murder, rape and other grave human rights violations, the UN official said.
He noted “another round of failed talks” in Ethiopia and declarations of ceasefires which were “a fiction because the fighting continues”.
On the issue of international funding, Lowcock said that he believed that there was no question of cutting aid, although donors wanted to be sure that the funds were not “instrumentalized” as he put it, by the warring parties.
Foreign governments, including the combined countries of the European Union, are also seeking to improve safety for humanitarian workers and get the “men with guns to behave differently”, the UN official said, adding that despite the insecurity, aid workers still managed to reach “about 2 million people” in the last month.
Without this assistance, the situation “would be much worse”, Mr. Lowcock said, adding that South Sudan remains “the most dangerous place to be an aid worker”, having claimed the lives of 100 humanitarians since fighting began in 2013.
While visiting South Sudan in recent weeks, the Emergency Relief Coordinator said that many high-level country representatives had told him that “things can’t go on like this”.
Above all, Lowcock noted, there needed to be a change “in the way that belligerents are behaving”, before adding “I really welcome the announcement made by the White House a couple of weeks ago that the US is going to conduct a review of its assistance to South Sudan”.
Asked which measures might encourage the warring parties to negotiate or at least curtail the destructive activities of armed groups, Lowcock noted that an arms embargo would be a matter for the UN Security Council, where he had been told “informally” that some members were considering it.
Some governments also had mechanisms to investigate the private wealth of political appointees, the UN official continued, adding that visa bans and financial sanctions have been used to apply pressure on those suspected of using natural resources for personal gain.
Famine was declared briefly last year in Unity State where tens of thousands of civilians were under siege, Lowcock said, adding that humanitarians had managed to get aid to those who needed it.
The situation isn’t as dire as that yet, he added, but a lot of places are “on the cusp” of passing into severe vulnerability.
Outside South Sudan, refugees have fled settled in South Kordofan in neighbouring Sudan and to Kukuma camp in north-west Kenya, and Lowcock appealed to the international community to help support these host countries “as they have their own problems to deal with”.
To date, the UN’s $1.7 billion humanitarian response plan for South Sudan is less than a quarter funded. The funding is to enable UN aid agencies and partners to deliver lifesaving assistance to the world’s youngest country.
“South Sudan is facing its highest levels of food insecurity and malnutrition since independence 10 years ago”, said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for OCHA, adding that the plan aimed to reach 6.6 million people with life-saving assistance and protection.
The plan has identified 8.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including refugees, across the country. This is an 800,000-person increase in absolute numbers from the 7.5 million people in need in 2020.
“Violence and localized conflicts in many parts of the country also drive up humanitarian needs, and the impact again of COVID-19 on markets, services and people’s ability to move around have increased their vulnerability”, said OCHA’s Jens Laerke.
South Sudan is also expected to see devastating flooding again this year. Last year and in 2019 flooding affected almost one million people.
Laerke voiced concern that the upcoming lean season in South Sudan, from May to July, was “likely going to be the most severe on record and the immediate priorities in the response plan are to sustain the deliveries in the most food insecure areas and prepare for this upcoming raining season which could, again, be devastating.”
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 60 percent of the population is increasingly hungry.
“Approximately 7.2 million South Sudanese have been pushed into severe food insecurity due again to sporadic violence, extreme weather and the economic impact of COVID-19”, said WFP spokesperson, Tomson Phiri, spokesperson of WFP.
He added that “this figure includes over 100,000 people who are in those hard-to-reach areas of 6 counties who are at risk of famine. They are literally one step away from famine according to the Famine Review Committee report.”
WFP has been scaling up its support in Akobo, Pibor, Aweil west, Tonj North, Tonj South and Tonj East, reaching 195,000 vulnerable people in early 2021.
Food stocks in place
The agency has started to pre-position food stocks ahead of that rainy season, “to ensure that crucial food assistance reaches the most vulnerable populations without delay during the lean season”, reported Phiri.
WFP plans to reach over 5 million people in South Sudan with food and nutrition assistance across its emergency, nutrition and livelihoods programmes.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is aiming to provide humanitarian assistance for more than 2.2 million South Sudanese refugees living in five neighbouring countries in 2021.
Millions of the world’s youngest nation are displaced either inside or outside South Sudan. “The crisis continues to be a children’s one with more than 65% of the refugee population being under 18”, said UNHCR’s spokesperson, Babar Baloch.
Needs still high
While some progress has been made in implementing the latest peace agreement, humanitarian and protection needs remain high for the largest refugee situation in Africa.
The majority of South Sudanese refugees are hosted in relatively remote and under-developed areas. Baloch said that “the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the climate change related challenges including severe flooding, droughts and desert locust have compounded an already dire situation.
“Funding is urgently needed to provide life-sustaining assistance including shelter, access to safe-drinking water, education and health services.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda continue to host South Sudanese refugees and to take steps towards their inclusion in national systems.