By PHILLIP MBUGO
Hundreds of people sheltering from violence at Bangasu camp in the Western Equatorian region of South Sudan have received humanitarian relief for the first time since they fled their homes in June.
A peacekeeping patrol serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan provided safe passage for the delivery of aid by humanitarian agencies to more than 800 households at two camps, who received cooking utensils, buckets and tarpaulins to provide much-needed shelter from the heavy rains.
The journey to these camps involves the convoy navigating waterlogged roads damaged by heavy rain and the war that has ravaged South Sudan for almost four years.
The convoy passed by villages abandoned by residents who fled after coming under attack earlier this year. No one knows exactly how many people died in the raids but many of the homes have been looted or burnt to the ground.
Those sheltering at Bangasu camp say both sides involved in the ongoing conflict are responsible for their predicament.
“It is difficult because as the incident happened the government was patrolling these places searching for the rebels and the rebels were also active here moving through the villages,” said Bangasu camp chief, Moses Ruzino.
The patrol was also able to reach Rimenze camp further to the north where hundreds of people have sought sanctuary in a makeshift camp next to the Catholic Church.
Despite the presence of the church, the families here still suffer from regular threats, harassment, beatings and looting by armed groups.
“Of course we are scared because there is no protection, you know, anyone can just come and enter the camp, as has happened several times back, that the rebels can come in the camp beginning to beat people and to loot from people,” said Moses Ruzino. “That is why we are putting our request to the UN come here to protect the civilians here.”
The peacekeeping mission has two purposes. Firstly, to provide a protective presence in the area, even if it is temporary, and, secondly, to facilitate the delivery of aid by humanitarian agencies who have been struggling to safely reach the displaced civilians.
Life is difficult in these camps without access to clean drinking water, food, or adequate shelter.
“It is really very difficult for us to survive in this place because even when we run, all our food items were looted, and all our food items are now spoiled. We are just staying, waiting, to see who can help us by providing us a little food so we can help our children and women,” said Bangasu camp chief, James Atoroba.
Bangasu camp resident, Atonita Daniel, is particularly grateful for the assistance. Her husband was killed during violent clashes in the area in 2015. Since then, she has been raising her nine children on her own. The simple gift of a plastic sheet will make a huge difference in protecting them from the heavy rain.
“I have experienced hardship for the first time in my life with my nine children whose father was killed on his way to sell charcoal in the town and left me alone. The children and I are telling those who are fighting to stop senseless war and I also urge UN to bring peace to South Sudan at any cost. We are tired,” she said.
The people in these camps want to go home to grow their crops, raise their children and live a peaceful and prosperous life. However, it is simply not safe enough to return. They say there are armed groups in the bush who continue to loot the deserted homes and military forces often follow them, harassing and beating them, in an attempt to find out where armed opposition groups are located.
“My message to the government of South Sudan and also the international community is that they have to bring peace so that we can go back to our own places so that our children can go to school. We need peace,” said Moses Ruzino in Rimenze.
That simple plea echoed by those back down the long road to Bangusa.
“We don’t like to stay just the way we are, squeezing ourselves here in the camp. We need protection because we want to go back to our local area,” said James Atoroba. “We don’t like war. We want all the gunshots to stop in our area. We do not want to see any rebels moving with their guns anywhere or looting people’s property. We need peace.”
Peace so that the people of Bangusa and Rimenze can live their lives safely, with dignity, and hope for a brighter future.
Published on UNMISS on September 5, 2017 (unmiss.unmissions.org/humanitarian-aid-reaches-desperate-internally-displaced-people-bangasu).
By Audrey Wabwire
One hot Tuesday afternoon last January, about 10 South Sudanese government soldiers came to Elizabeth’s village, Romoji, in Kajo Keji county, near the Ugandan border. Many of the farming villages in her area have become the front lines of South Sudan’s four-year civil war.
“The soldiers came close to the house around 4:00 pm,” said Elizabeth, a tall, slender woman in her thirties. “I was cooking at home when my son told me that soldiers had come. My husband Kristofer went outside the house to check. They shot him.”
When her two sons, aged 10 and 5, went out to check on their father, the soldiers shot them dead too. Elizabeth (not her real name), ran from her home, hearing soldiers firing their guns. One soldier chased her and caught her. He was tall, like the rest of them. He did not speak to her, but threatened her with a knife and twisted her arm, breaking it. Elizabeth believes he wanted to kill her, though she’s not sure what stopped him. “Maybe they let me go because they had already killed 3 people,” she says.
Despite a 2015 peace agreement, fighting between South Sudan’s government and rebel forces has spread to the country’s southern Greater Equatorias region, which had been somewhat insulated from the war until late 2015 when it began to spread.
As in elsewhere in South Sudan, the fighting split communities down ethnic lines – with mostly Dinka government troops and armed militia targeting the mostly non-Dinka communities they suspected of supporting the rebels.
The violence and abuses – largely committed by government forces during counter-insurgency operations in western parts of the country and in the southern Equatorias region – have displaced hundreds of thousands in the last year alone, mostly to Uganda, which now hosts almost a million South Sudanese.
Since the conflict started in December 2013, igniting in Juba and spreading north, more than 2 million people fled to neighboring countries with another 2 million displaced internally, making South Sudan the largest humanitarian disaster in Africa today.
Soon after this attack, Elizabeth’s mother and her 3 remaining children fled to Uganda. Elizabeth told Human Rights Watch how she hid in a riverbed nearby for four days, drinking water with one hand because her other arm was broken. She said she ate soil to survive. When she came out of hiding, her village was abandoned. She managed to find transport with assistance from the UN, and came to Uganda, where she now lives with her family as a refugee.
Elizabeth’s past torments her and her future hangs in the balance. In May 2017, when Human Rights Watch spoke with Elizabeth, she could not stop crying. Five months later, she is clearly still traumatized – not just psychologically but physically: her arm hangs limp by her side and it is difficult for her to find a way to care for her family. She worries about finding food and does not sleep at night, she says.
When she pauses in her story, Elizabeth stares listlessly into the horizon. “My husband was a farmer, why did they kill him? With one arm, how do I care for the children and my mother? I want to commit suicide,” she says.
Although the camp offers some security, no one truly feels safe. Family members who dare to venture across the border to collect food from home face further attacks. Elizabeth walks back to her tent to prepare an evening meal for her children, a task she used to enjoy, but now struggles to perform.
Published on HRW on August 1, 2017.
By Jackson Diehl
The never-ending circus that is Donald Trump’s presidency has sucked attention from all kinds of issues that desperately need it, from health-care reform to the creeping expansion of U.S. engagement in Syria. Still, it’s shocking that so little heed is being paid to what the United Nations says is the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945: the danger that about 20 million people in four countries will suffer famine in the coming months, and that hundreds of thousands of children will starve to death.
Not heard of this? That’s the problem. According to U.N. and private relief officials, efforts to supply enough food to stem the simultaneous crises in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria are falling tragically short so far, in part because of inadequate funding from governments and private donors. Of the $4.9 billion sought in February by the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for immediate needs in those countries, just 39 percent had been donated as of last week.
That resource gap could be attributed to donor fatigue, or to the sheer size of the need. But, in part, it’s a simple lack of awareness. “We can’t seem to get anyone’s attention to what’s going on,” says Carolyn Miles, the president and chief executive of Save the Children.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” says David Beasley, the former South Carolina governor who heads the U.N. World Food Program. “The last eight to 10 months the world has been distracted. It’s all Trump, Trump, Trump . . . and here we are in crisis mode.”
The statistics that Miles and Beasley reel off certainly ought to command attention. For example: 1.4 million children are at risk of starvation in the four countries, of whom 600,000 “could die in the next three to four months,” according to Beasley. In Yemen, where hunger stalks 17 million people, only 3.3 million are being provided with full rations, compared with the 6.8 million the WFP wanted to feed this month. Meanwhile, a cholera epidemic has erupted, infecting more than 200,000 people so far. Miles says another child is infected every 35 seconds.
There’s been some progress: In the South Sudanese state of Unity, which surpassed the U.N. standard for a famine designation earlier this year, the alert was lifted last week following some large and timely food deliveries. In Somalia, too, relief operations have been more effective than during the last declared famine, in 2011. And yet the overall situation in both countries is still frightening. Fully 50 percent of South Sudan’s population, or 6 million people, are expected to be “severely food insecure” in the coming weeks, an increase of 500,000 over May.
In Somalia, the failure of spring rains may push the country into famine status by next month, Miles says. Yet the WFP says it might have to cut off 700,000 Somalis from aid in the next few weeks if more funding does not come through.
Notwithstanding the anti-foreign aid posture of the Trump administration, the United States is not the problem here. By early June Washington had pledged nearly $1.2 billion in relief to the four countries, including a supplement of $329 million announced on May 24. There’s more coming, thanks to a bipartisan coalition in Congress, spearheaded by Republican Sen. Lindsay O. Graham, that inserted $990 million for famine relief into this year’s budget.
Aid officials said getting the money from Washington is a slow process, thanks to the failure of the new administration to fill key posts at the U.S. Agency for International Development. And for the year beginning in October, Trump’s budget proposes a drastic cut of $1 billion in food aid. But Graham and other key legislators have already made clear that it won’t happen. “For all the chaos,” Beasley told me, “Democrats and Republicans still come together for hungry children.”
The WFP leader is more impatient with other nations — especially the Persian Gulf states that have done so much to create the crisis in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, which led the military intervention that has devastated an already poor country since 2015, is partially blockading the vital port of Hodeida, through which 70 percent of Yemen’s food is imported. So far this year the Saudis promised $227 million in famine relief to Yemen but delivered only about 30 percent of that. The United Arab Emirates isn’t even on OCHA’s list of donors. “The Saudis,” says Beasley, “ought to fund 100 percent of humanitarian needs in Yemen. No question.”
Famines used to attract broad interest in the West. Rock stars led relief campaigns, and television networks produced special documentaries. U.S. nongovernmental organizations are looking for ways to similarly galvanize the country this summer. Millions of lives may depend on whether they can find a way to command attention in the age of Trump.
Published on The Washington Post on June 25, 2017.
More than 1 million children have fled South Sudan’s civil war, two United Nations agencies said Monday, part of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.
Another 1 million South Sudanese children are displaced within the country, having fled their homes due to the civil war, said the UN’s child and refugee agencies in a statement Monday.
‘‘The future of a generation is truly on the brink,’’ said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s regional director for eastern and southern Africa. ‘‘The horrifying fact that nearly one in five children in South Sudan has been forced to flee their home illustrates how devastating this conflict has been for the country’s most vulnerable.’’
The civil war has worsened South Sudan’s ethnic divisions and UN officials have said parts of the country are experiencing ethnic cleansing and are at risk of genocide.
Roughly 62 percent of refugees from South Sudan are children, according to the UN statement, and more than 75,000 children are alone or without their families. Roughly 1.8 million people have fled South Sudan in total.
‘‘No refugee crisis today worries me more than South Sudan,’’ said Valentin Tapsoba, Africa bureau director of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). ‘‘That refugee children are becoming the defining face of this emergency is incredibly troubling.’’
For children still living in South Sudan, the situation is still grim. Nearly three quarters of children are out of school, according to the UN statement, which is the highest out-of-school population in the world.
An official famine was declared in two counties of South Sudan in February, and hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of starvation in the absence of food aid, according to the United Nations.
More than 1,000 children have been killed or wounded in the East African nation’s civil war. Both sides have pledged not to recruit child soldiers, but have ignored their promises.
A UN official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that opposition groups are recruiting inside UN displacement sites. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of lack of authorization to speak to the media.
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 and has killed tens of thousands of people.
South Sudan’s government forces ‘‘continue to target civilians in violation of the law of armed conflict,’’ the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, and European Union said on Monday, one of the most critical statements by foreign governments against the East African nation as it experiences a sharp rise in ethnic attacks.
‘‘Large government offensives in Yuai, Waat, Tonga, and Kodok have resulted in even more tragic humanitarian consequences, displacing 50,000 to 100,000 individuals in recent weeks,’’ the statement said. ‘‘These actions stand in direct conflict with the government’s stated aim of a political solution to the conflict.’’
Published on the Boston Globe's website on May 8, 2017.