London — Efforts to assist millions of people fleeing South Sudan in Africa's biggest refugee crisis face a critical funding shortfall of nearly $800 million, a top regional United Nations official said on Friday.
The five-year civil war has hit women and children particularly hard, and gender-based violence is a top concern, said Arnauld Akodjenou, regional refugee coordinator and the UNHCR refugee agency's special advisor for South Sudan, in an interview.
Nearly 2.5 million people have been displaced by the war which erupted in 2013, sparked by rivalry between President Salva Kiir and the former vice president he sacked, Riek Machar.
Attempts to resolve the political crisis have failed, and the U.N. Security Council voted on Thursday to renew some sanctions on South Sudan through mid-July.
"There is a level of suffering that you can see people are going through," Akodjenou told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Life-saving assistance is critical, starting with food, shelter, water.
"We are in a very challenging moment," he said.
The primary focus remains on securing aid for food, shelter and water, and a Regional Refugee Response Plan designed to address the humanitarian disaster was struggling for funds, he said.
Of the $835 million needed, only $64 million has been raised, he said. Germany, the United States and Japan have been the biggest supporters of the programme, data show.
The UNHCR is working to address gender-based violence, including putting extra security measures in camps and providing counseling services to rape victims, he said.
A U.N. survey last year in camps in Juba, South Sudan's capital, found about 70 percent of women had been raped since the conflict began.
"No single girl, no single woman, should go through this on top of what they are already going through as refugees," Akodjenou said.
The South Sudan violence has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people and unleashed a refugee crisis expected to include more than three million people by year's end, according to the U.N.
Women and children make up 85 percent of the displaced population that has spread to Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Sudan. "It's time for the political situation to be sorted out. It's time to end this suffering," he said.
- Reporting by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst