Q&A: The humanitarian crisis in South Sudan

South Sudan has just turned one year old, but not everybody is able to celebrate the nation’s birthday.

Juba, South Sudan – This country may have just marked its first anniversary as an independent nation, yet many here do not see much to celebrate.

As it stands, international aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian crisis. Conflict in Sudan is sending thousands of refugees south into overcrowded camps, and the World Bank is warning that, unless South Sudan restarts its oil production, it faces economic collapse.

United Nations humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande has been the deputy special representative of the UN secretary-general here for almost four years.

In one of her final interviews before leaving her position in South Sudan, she spoke to Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri about the current humanitarian crisis.

Nazanine Moshiri: Humanitarian agencies are talking about the worse crisis since 2005. Why do you think this has happened over the past year?

Lise Grande: A year ago, when South Sudan became the world’s newest country, I think a lot of us hoped and expected in the first year of statehood we would see the state taking off, that the prosperity that everyone had hoped for would be just around the corner – [but] in fact, one year on, we are faced with a humanitarian crisis of much greater proportions than we had expected or planned for.

Grande says the Sudans must reconcile
in order to aid development [Al Jazeera]

The number of people who need assistance is double what we had expected. Now, there are a couple of reasons for this, the fact that Sudan and South Sudan were unable to solve the issues that divided them – those that relate to the comprehensive peace agreement – overshadows everything. Much of the tension between the two countries, [which is] driving the humanitarian crisis, relates to the fact that there hasn’t been an agreement between the two countries on succession.

We have had border closures which have impacted on the situation; the decision of the government of South Sudan to shut down oil production has had an impact, we’ve had erratic rainfall, [and] there’s a massive cereal deficit. If you combine all these factors – and add inter-communual violence here in South Sudan – these are the factors that have contributed to making this the worst humanitarian year since the comprehensive peace agreement was signed.

NM: Do you think the UN and the international community are doing enough to put pressure on South Sudan, to resolve not only the issue with Sudan, but also to use the money that it has got wisely? Don’t you feel that it is about time the international community actually put its foot down, and said to South Sudan: “You actually have to start giving back something”?

LG: I think the decision to shut down oil production forced the government into austerity measures, and there’s no question those measures are having an impact on households. Households that were already struggling are [now] in much worse shape.

I think we have to question whether or not that was the right thing to do.

I think also we have to recognise when someone is hungry, when someone is in trouble, you want to reach out to them, you want to make sure they have the kind of emergency assistance they need in order to survive. This is not the time when you start to play politics, no – when someone needs help we have to do everything possible to reach them.

NM: But do you think the message is getting through to the South Sudanese government that, although international agencies are willing to help on an emergency basis, they are not going to fill the gap left by the shutting down of oil production?

LG: South Sudan entered statehood highly vulnerable. The outstanding issues from the comprehensive peace agreement – there were a number of them that weren’t solved.

They didn’t agree on well sharing, they hadn’t reached a deal on the border, and the fact that [those issues] haven’t been resolved overshadows everything.

And it is clear that, at the heart of the issue, there needs to be an agreement between Sudan and South Sudan. When those issues are resolved, I think we can expect to see the conditions that are necessary for “state takeoff” start to come in to place.

If you look at what South Sudan started with – South Sudan is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, it has some of the worst human development indicators in the world, it has the largest capacity gap in Africa. That’s a long road they have to walk.

The international community is in solidarity with them in trying to help them on that road, and we hope that, once the agreement between Sudan and South Sudan is reached, that journey can accelerate and we can see the state take off.

NM: What if it isn’t reached?

LG: I think that we are all expecting that those countries will find a way of resolving those issues, and sooner rather than later, and that will lay the groundwork for the next stage of development.

Follow Nazanine Moshiri on Twitter: @nazaninemoshiri

Source : Al Jazeera

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