Juba. - By July 4.6 million people in South Sudan could be in severe danger of starvation. This is the result of the most recent analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. On Tuesday (June 16th) an aid pledging conference is being held in Geneva. Leading international aid agencies and advocates have warned on Monday that meeting only the food, health, water and sanitation and shelter needs of children currently trapped in a protracted conflict in South Sudan means nothing if the education and child protection needs are not met. But international attention on the country is waning. Up until today, the UN appeal for South Sudan for the amount of money necessary to respond according to the level of need, is only 37 percent funded
The refugee appeal, which seeks to assist the over half a million refugees in neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda stands at 11 percent funded.
On top of that, during intense fighting in the areas of Upper Nile State organisations have had programs suspended last month. And are only now resuming their humantarian efforts.
A small team of World Vision travelled to Melut and Wau Shiluk, in Upper Nile, two hotspots in the ongoing conflict. Food assistance, shelter and water specialists are trying to meet the most immediate needs of the people in these areas, an estimated population of 40,000 people.
"Communities are in dire need of food. Most of the population have stayed in Wau Shilluk and more people have arrived," said Lilian Mumbi, Manager of World Vision’s Emergency Response who travelled to Wau Shiluk.
"The most immediate need is for food and sanitation. The last distribution of food was in March. Wau Shiluk is a cholera hot spot in Upper Nile. There is a shortage of latrines, hygiene practices are poor and the population dense," she said. "We are concerned that if we don’t start addressing these needs immediately, we will have a much bigger problem on our hands, so our plan is to start constructing latrines as soon as we can," she said.
World Vision worked in a number of locations in Upper Nile before the latest outbreak of conflict, aiding hundreds of thousands of people with food, nutrition, water and protection. "Melut is deserted – almost 50,000 people have completely disappeared. All that is left of the town is burnt-out buildings. Our compound has been looted and equipment damaged or destroyed," said Fred McCray, Operations Director, World Vision South Sudan. "It will take us some time to get our programs back up and running, but we are competing for time, against hunger and disease," he said. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported similar experiences in May.
"Although we are working in Upper Nile with assurances of safety from all the armed groups, our programs are still suspended in Unity state. Until we are able to go back there, at least 50,000 children are at risk from malnutrition," said McCray.
"We’re doing our best to reach people with aid, but all parties in this conflict need to respect the work of aid agencies and let us do our work safely – we are only here to serve the people of South Sudan," said McCray.
World Vision and Save the Children made a united plea to donors who will attend a pledging conference in Geneva on Tuesday to fully fund child protection and education programs in South Sudan.
Combined, education and protection are only fifty percent funded in the UN Strategic Response Plan, If donors cannot meet 100% cost of the plan, the agencies, who provide large amounts of aid directly to children in South Sudan would likely not be able to fully meet education and child protection needs and fail in their mission to expand education to children currently out of school. This shortfall will mean entire generations will remain uneducated, disadvantaged, and unprepared to contribute to their society’s recovery.
"This war is taking an unimaginable toll on children,” said Perry Mansfield, National Director, World Vision South Sudan. “That any child should be killed, abused or have to use a gun is a tragedy that happens in South Sudan every day. If we are serious about stopping the violence in South Sudan, not only do we have to protect children, but we must invest in their future," said Mansfield.
In April 2014, it was estimated that 9,000 children were associated with armed forces and groups. In May 2015, that number had risen to an estimated 13,000, an increase of 40 percent in just one year. Close to 600,000 children have been affected by psychological distress due to the violence they have seen or experienced, 400,000 children dropped out of school and it is estimated that more than one million children were out of school before the current crisis began according to the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF).
"Over $200 million in pledges from the Nairobi Conference in February is still outstanding and overall funding for the response falls short by over $1 billion, meaning vulnerable children are not receiving the life-saving assistance they need," said Walsh."
"There are many reasons why the last conference failed to garner enough funds but the most simple reason is that the world is facing more humanitarian emergencies than ever before at a time when many donor countries are drastically cutting their aid budgets. There is much more need and fewer resources to meet them," Melany Markham from World Vision South Sudan explained.
Last year, children told us that they spend half the amount of time in school now than before the conflict – and that school time has been replaced with work," said Mansfield "Emergency education programs and longer-term education must be available to all children," he added.
Both agencies called upon the international community to act urgently to protect children affected by the conflict and ensure robust funding for education and child protection for the duration of the crisis.
In 2014, aid organisations warned that if urgent action was not taken the situation would become unimaginably worse for the people in South Sudan, especially children. Over a year later, the situation continues to deteriorate, with more children separated from their families, more children at risk of violence, more children out of school, and more recruited into armed groups.
"Donors must not lose sight on South Sudan’s long-term development. Eighteen months after the beginning of the conflict, the failure to fund protection and education programs for children will have a long-lasting effect on the future of South Sudan. Schools and health systems across the country hang in the balance," said Walsh.
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Photo: © World Vision South Sudan - Burnt out homes left by recent conflict in Upper Nile, South Sudan