London — The main humanitarian arm of the United Nations appealed to the world body's powerful Security Council for help Tuesday in securing access to two conflict areas in the south of Sudan, where rebels have been fighting the government since 2011.
It is eight months since UN Security Council resolution 2046 called on the Sudanese government and the SPLM-North rebels to negotiate humanitarian access and find a political solution to the conflict that erupted after a disputed election in South Kordofan and the failure to implement the elements of a 2005 peace deal related to the "Two Areas" before South Sudan's independence.
In February last year a tripartite process involving the UN, African Union and Arab League to propose ways of providing assistance to rebel-held areas was launched but has failed to secure any access to humanitarian organisations. Both sides blame the other for the failure to operationalise a three-month window to allow aid into the SPLM-N controlled areas of the conflict zone, which expired in December.
OCHA's Director of Operations, John Ging, said Tuesday he was "distressed by the humanitarian plight of the people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile State."
After delivering a statement by Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos to the Security Council, Ging told the press in New York that he had asked for help reaching the people who remain in the Two Areas.
Over 200,000 people have fled into South Sudan and Ethiopia and due to the lack of access, humanitarian agencies have had to rely mainly on testimony from these refugees to gain picture of the situation.
The emaciated and malnourished state of some refugees when they manage to cross the border also indicates that there is severe hunger in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, Ging said, but the extent of this has not been verified by international humanitarian organizations.
"We hear incredibly alarming stories of people having to rely on roots and leaves. This is 2013, and to think that hundreds of thousands of people are living in such desperate and deplorable circumstances, and we can't get in to help them as humanitarian organizations is just not acceptable", Ging said.
So far negotiations between the government and SPLM-N to allow humanitarian access the Two Areas had achieved "zero", he said.
He blamed "a deficit of political will on both sides to do what is necessary to actually give the access that we need to help the people where they so urgently and desperately need our help."
The OCHA official said that thousands of tonnes of food, medicines and vaccines, were standing by waiting to be taken into the two areas as soon as humanitarian organisations are granted access.
"We have conveyed the bleakness... and the urgency of the situation, and hope now for the support of the Security Council in generating political incentive, motivation and impetus that will get us across the line from just rhetoric to action."
The UN Security Council has "understood" his message that "We need now access, and we need it urgently and desperately", he said.
While Ging did not attribute blame to one side more than the other, the United States' Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, a consistent critic of Khartoum, said there was "blame on both sides, but the preponderance is and has been on the government in Khartoum".
This was rejected by Sudan's permanent representative to the United Nations, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, who said that the SPLM-N were to blame for the deteriorating situation and the failure to agree on the modalities to allow humanitarian access. He accused the SPLM-N of escalating their attacks outside of the areas under their control by attacking the state capital, Kadugli.
The SPLM-N, however, say that they are merely responding to the Sudanese government's aerial bombardment of rebel controlled areas, claiming that nearly 1,000 bombs were dropped between June and December last year.
Ambassador Rice said the US was "deeply concerned about the ongoing aerial bombardments by the Sudanese Armed Forces, including in civilian areas. The Security Council must work collectively now to press for immediate and unfettered humanitarian access--something for which the United States has been working for many months--particularly in the Two Areas, where the humanitarian emergency has been acute for well over a year."
She urged the "the two parties to conduct urgent talks on humanitarian access, a ceasefire, and a political resolution of their conflict" based on the August 2011 framework agreement, which was rejected by Khartoum.
Rice called added "for there to be the kind of access that's necessary to support the people of the Two Areas, there has to be full access granted by the Government of Sudan and, indeed, by the SPLM-North and a halt to the aerial bombardments, which are causing grave risk to civilians and lots of casualties, as well as to other attacks by the SPLM-North on civilian areas."
Sudan accuses neighbouring South Sudan of supporting the SPLM-N rebels. The SPLM-N was established ahead of South Sudan's independence from the members of the SPLM - the former southern rebels who have governed South Sudan since a 2005 peace deal - from South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
At bilateral Sudan-South Sudan talks between in Addis Ababa on Saturday South Sudan's President Salva Kiir repeated his country's assertion that they have cut off all military ties with SPLM-N and don't allow them to use his country as a base and resupply route.
Juba's offer to mediate between Khartoum and the SPLM-N has been rejected outright by the Sudanese government.
Ambassador Rice said that the SPLM-N and Khartoum were obliged, under UN Security Council resolution 2046, "to resolve not only the humanitarian situation but work towards a cessation of violence as well as a lasting political solution to what is an internal issue inside of Sudan but, obviously, that has involved at different times the army and the government of the South".