Juba — The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has launched a new emergency operation to expand assistance to people affected by the crisis in South Sudan and is working to overcome challenges preventing urgently needed relief from reaching those who need it.
The US$57.8 million, three-month operation aims to provide emergency food assistance to up to 400,000 internally displaced people, including specialized nutritional support for new mothers and young children who are most at risk from a disruption in their food supply.
"WFP began providing food for displaced people within days of the outbreak of fighting, and we have already assisted at least 100,000 people in South Sudan since the conflict erupted in mid-December," said WFP East and Central Africa Regional Director Valerie Guarnieri, who was in Juba last week. "But while we and our partners are reaching more people every day, we still face difficulties accessing some areas, and the looting of food and other assets from a number of our compounds and warehouses around the country, most recently in Bentiu on Thursday, greatly complicates our relief efforts."
This crisis has forced at least 200,000 people to flee their homes in search of safety, during what in many parts of the country should be the harvest season. WFP fears that the impact on food security will be significant for some time even if the political negotiations are successful. Food insecurity was a major challenge for South Sudan even before the conflict, and unrest has disrupted commercial supplies to local markets in much of the country.
With fighting continuing, humanitarian agencies are having trouble reaching many areas of South Sudan. WFP food stocks pre-positioned at nearly 100 sites around the country facilitate the relief effort but these same stocks are also at risk. So far WFP estimates that 10 percent of its food in the country has been looted - enough to feed some 180,000 people for a month.
"WFP urges all parties to protect civilians and safeguard humanitarian assets - such as food stocks - so that they can be used to provide critical relief, especially for women and children, affected by the violence," said WFP Deputy Country Director Eddie Rowe. "We join our partners in urgently appealing to both sides to allow access for humanitarian agencies to safely provide assistance to those in need."
Since about 60 percent of South Sudan is inaccessible by road during the rainy season, WFP would in a normal year now be beginning the annual effort to pre-position food in remote locations before the rains start in April or May. Conflict makes that difficult or impossible in some places, and it is likely that some communities in need of humanitarian assistance will be reachable only by air.
In addition to support for conflict-affected people inside South Sudan, WFP is also assisting tens of thousands of refugees who have fled across South Sudan's borders into neighbouring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.
"We have mobilized quickly to provide immediate relief to people seeking safety across South Sudan's borders," said Guarnieri. "But all of our refugee assistance programmes in the region were already facing severe funding shortfalls before this crisis, and a new influx of refugees will strain their resources even further."