Today parliament debated the worsening humanitarian situation in the world’s newest and one of its poorest states – South Sudan. Political instability, and internal conflict within the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, has spiralled into the fracturing of the country’s armed forces, battles in seven of the 10 states of South Sudan, and the killing of civilians along ethnic lines. According to the United Nations, nearly 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes, 60,000 have sought refuge in the UN’s compounds, with between 3,000 and 4,000 people fleeing South Sudan over the border into Uganda each day. Most reliable estimates of the effects of the death toll put it at 10,000 lives lost and rising, amid the discovery of mass graves. In any outbreak of violence, it is women and children who suffer the most, and with some hospitals running out of blood for transfusions, a humanitarian disaster could be in the making. Given the UK’s historic role in the central African region and our strong commitment to empowering women, and to improve education and health for the world’s poorest, we should urge the UK government to do its part to increase international support to resolve what has been a tragic political, and, latterly, ethnic conflict.
The people of South Sudan have already suffered from the stand-off with Sudan over oil revenues, in 2012 seeing its GDP collapse by nearly 250 per cent, and with four million people left at risk of food insecurity. When I visited the country in 2012, I met an inspirational 500-strong female cooperative supported by the UN’s World Food Programme, growing fruit and vegetables for market in order to give their children that which they themselves had been denied – the right to an education. It is abhorrent if such progress on the empowerment of women and children in South Sudanese society is put back by the current violence. Progress was only beginning to be made on tackling appalling rates of maternal mortality during childbirth, and child mortality before this latest violence. This latest reverse could not come at a worse time, with the planting season imminent, and rains due in April which will render 60 per cent of the country inaccessible from by road, placing an even greater burden on the UN’s ability to deliver aid by air.
So how can Britain and the rest of the international community help in reviewing the nature of the current UN mission in South Sudan, and offering hope for the future? First, DfID has already increased its crisis humanitarian funding for South Sudan by £12.5m, but UN sources believe there is still a $106m shortfall, so pressure needs to be applied to our development partners to increase their support in South Sudan’s hour of greatest need.
Second, further diplomatic assistance is necessary to bolster the efforts by the African Union and ISAG to broker a ceasefire and a durable peace being made in the Addis Ababa talks with the government in Juba.
Third, we need greater efforts to foster peace and reconciliation within South Sudan. What has become clear as a result of this current conflict is that many of the wounds inflicted upon the society in the previous outbreak of civil strife and ethnic and tribal conflict had not healed, and that a process of reconciliation, while owning up to past conduct, needs to occur.
Fourth, help by the international community to develop South Sudan’s infrastructure, particularly its roads, is vital. If the country is to fulfil the potential that its abundant natural resources offer and rebalance its economy away from overdependence on oil and towards manufacturing, those producing food need to be able to rely on proper supply chains for seeds, and getting food to markets.
Fifth, help with establishing proper institutions of good governance is also crucial. The present constitution was designed as a temporary version, but proper relationships to permit the scrutiny of the government by the opposition, and establish more effective processes of dispute resolution within the government, have yet to be fully developed. There is much assistance the international community can provide in building the capacity of the state to function.
Finally, we must boost the role of civic society. In many of the outlying states it is civic society and NGOs which provide education, health and other important public services. They can be an effective partner of the government in beginning South Sudan’s recovery from this avoidable and damaging conflict.
William Bain is member of parliament for Glasgow North-east and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Sudan and South Sudan. He tweets @William_Bain
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