Oxfam International says the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan will continue to grow worse until warring parties finally adhere to a three month old ceasefire agreement.
Oxfam’s spokesperson in Juba, Grace Cahill, said many South Sudanese are in need of immediate aid.
“In the country at the moment, we have more than one-million people who have had to flee their homes -- many with sounds of gunshots ringing in their ears in the middle of the night. And we also have five-million people who are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. So that makes it clear that the conflict is not just affecting people who have been physically displaced from their homes, but it’s also affecting people who have not had to leave their homes, but who are suffering as a result of the conflict.”
She said Oxfam is providing life-saving services in the capital and six other locations further north.
“We focus on providing water, sanitation and food for the most vulnerable people. We began work just a few days after the fighting broke out in December last year. So, fighting started on the 15th. We had programs up and running in the capital Juba by the 20th of December,” she said.
Oxfam is currently reaching over 155,000 people with its programs. However, it and other humanitarian agencies face the same obstacle in trying to help those in need.
Cahill said, “The biggest problem is the fighting is ongoing. There was a ceasefire agreement signed in January, which didn’t seem to mean anything – didn’t hold at all. And since then we’ve seen [a] terrific scaling-up in the amount of violence there has been. It seems to be that we take two steps forward in terms of our response reaching people and then more fighting flares-up and we take one step back.”
The fighting disrupts aid distribution. But the condition of the roads is also a problem. Cahill said very few are paved, and many are muddy due to the rains. That means supplies must be flown in. But fighting interferes with that, too.
“So, what Oxfam and the rest of the humanitarian community need, first of all, is for there to be a complete cessation of hostilities -- for the fighting to stop immediately.”
She said the U.N. has warned of a hunger crisis with seven million of South Sudan’s 10-million people in need of food aid.
“With the conflict continuing there’s been complete market breakdown. [It’s] so broken that we’ve seen women selling individual garlic cloves, individual tomatoes, small, small things. [There’s] practically nothing in the market to try and raise some money. So that suggests there isn’t the food coming in to feed these people.”
The lack of food is affecting the displaced and non-displaced alike. Cahill said that those who did flee their homes left with nothing – cattle, goats and chickens were all left behind along with any grain they managed to harvest.
Oxfam is helping to distribute food aid, as well as providing seeds and farming tools so the displaced they can grow some food in the coming months.