International donors at a conference in Nairobi have pledged an additional $529 million toward humanitarian relief in war-torn South Sudan. But despite the outpouring of goodwill at the conference, there was an undercurrent of frustration with the country’s leadership for prolonging the civil conflict.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters Monday that pledges made at the conference bring the amount raised for South Sudan this year to $618 million. The sum is barely one-third of the $1.8 billion the U.N. has requested.
Amos, who had just returned from a trip to South Sudan, called on the country’s leaders to work toward peace.
“The leaders of South Sudan, the government and the opposition need to think about their people and I have to say that we felt very strongly yesterday that if they actually went out and saw the conditions in which their people are living, it might actually mean that they would pause and think again about the importance of peace,” said Amos.
The conflict in South Sudan began in December 2013 when a political dispute between the president and his deputy turned violent, splitting the ruling party and the military into rival factions.
Agencies warn that 2.5 million people are already hungry in the country, and that the numbers could rise without emergency assistance.
American actor Forest Whitaker, a U.N. special envoy for peace and reconciliation who accompanied Amos in South Sudan, also spoke of the need to support the people of the country above all else.
"I become more convinced every time I’m in South Sudan of the will and the resilience of the people," he said. "If the political and military leaders respect that will, if they protect and nurture the people in their own country, then there’s a future.”
'We want an end to it'
Addressing the conference, South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin thanked the international community for their support and urged patience with the peace process, promising his government is committed to reconciliation.
"We are all gathered here, including the international partners of goodwill, to bring about sanity and end the innocent loss of life and immense suffering of innocent women and children," he said. "These are our mothers and sisters and we want an end to it.”
The United States pledged nearly $273 million in new humanitarian assistance to South Sudan.
Speaking to VOA on the sidelines of the conference, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard emphasized that the U.S. remains concerned about the pace of peace negotiations.
“We did express our frustration and our concerns about the lack of a peace agreement and we directed our concerns at both the government of South Sudan and other parties to the conflict,” she said.
South Sudan’s warring factions have signed multiple ceasefire deals since January of last year and have been engaged in more comprehensive peace negotiations mediated by the East African group of nations IGAD.
So far, none of the cease-fire deals have lasted, and low-level fighting continues.