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UN Mission Warns of Economic, Refugee Crises in South Sudan

  • Jill Craig

United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) Special Representative to Secretary-General (SRSG) Hilde Johnson, March 6, 2012.

United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) Special Representative to Secretary-General (SRSG) Hilde Johnson, March 6, 2012.

NAIROBI — On Monday, South Sudan will celebrate its one-year anniversary as an independent nation. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan was given a one-year mandate to ensure the protection of civilians, help with peace consolidation, and assist in state building. Hilde Johnson, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative in South Sudan, met with reporters Thursday and discussed her observations of the country's and mission’s first year.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement was intended to end the second Sudanese civil war, develop democratic governance, and force the sharing of oil revenues on an equitable basis. It also required a referendum by which the people of southern Sudan could decide their future.

In January of 2011, the people voted overwhelmingly to secede from the north and create the Republic of South Sudan. However, the first year as an independent country has not been easy, as U.N. special representative Hilde Johnson can attest.

"On the mission, can we say that the mission has been accomplished? Absolutely not," said Johnson. "If you look at the mandate and Security Council Resolution 1996, the mandated tasks of the mission cannot be implemented in one year or in 12 months. Which is also the reason that I have every reason to believe that the Security Council will renew the mandate for another 12 and we might also see a longer presence of the mission."

Economic situation

Johnson says that the dire economic situation in South Sudan is a primary concern. South Sudan’s economy is dependent upon oil, which must be transported using a pipeline that runs through Sudan to the Red Sea. After a disagreement with Sudan over transit fees, the government of South Sudan decided to stop oil production earlier this year.

"Clearly, the shutdown of the oil production following the decision of the Cabinet of January 20 has had a significant impact on the South Sudanese economy," said Johnson. "It took a little while before it started to kick in, but we’re seeing an inflation rate of 80 percent, which was reported by the Minister of Finance to the parliament in connection with next year’s budget. Of course, the loss of 98 percent of income is significant."

Border issues

Johnson says that people living near the highly-contentious borders are experiencing even greater economic hardship.

"In the border areas, the inflation rate is higher, not least because of the closure of the border with Sudan and the lack of access of food, [and] because of the infrastructural challenges to get food to these areas. So we’re seeing there even a doubling of that inflation rate, in some areas," Johnson said.

Although improvements have been made, ethnic violence has not stopped in South Sudan. Between December of 2011 and February of 2012, hundreds of fatalities were recorded by UNMISS in Jonglei State, mostly between the Murle and Lou Nuer communities.

The violence also continues across the border, where Sudan's armed forces are fighting rebels in two states.

"We’re seeing the refugee numbers out of South[ern] Kordofan and Blue Nile increase by the week, with thousands actually. So now we have 175,000 caseload in refugee camps across the border, coming out of the two northern states. Secondly, we’re seeing UNHCR projecting an increase up to 235,000. This is [a] burden on a new and independent country, that we should not underestimate," said Johnson.

"Small victories"

However, despite these problems, Johnson says that some small victories have taken place in the young nation’s first year.

“My assessment is that, that the fact that we’re seeing two things happening," said Johnson. "One, full-scale war has been avoided, and two, stability in South Sudan in its first year has been achieved. Two very basic, but very critical achievements.”

Representatives from the governments of South Sudan and Sudan are currently meeting in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, to discuss issues such as the oil pipeline and border demarcation - including the flashpoint town of Abyei. The U.N. Security Council has set August 2 as the deadline to conclude discussions.
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