The outgoing head of the Red Cross delegation in South Sudan is expressing surprise at how quickly conditions in the country are deteriorating. In an interview with VOA, the official warns the humanitarian crisis will become worse as the rainy season takes hold in a couple of weeks.
Melkur Mabec has just left his post as mission chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross in South Sudan, which he assumed in March 2012.
At that time, he says, no one could have predicted the speed, geographical breadth, and ferocity of the crisis that erupted a little more than four months ago.
"The country is not even three years old, and when I arrived two years ago there was so much hope and joy and hopes for the future,"he said. "And, it has been very, very sad to see these hopes destroyed in the last couple of months. You see the fear among people of a return to the old days of extended conflict and hardship.”
Mabec says it is hard to predict the future, but the situation does not look optimistic. He says fighting between government and rebel forces will likely subside when the rainy season arrives next month. But the rains will pose other, extremely difficult problems.
He says more than one million people will remain displaced, inside and outside the country, and reaching them with desperately needed aid will be a monumental challenge.
“These people need food. They need shelter. They need clean water and they need to be able to return to their homes at some point to start working the land again and to start producing food ... The planting season has already been severely disrupted by this crisis."
Mabec says, We are extremely concerned about the nutritional situation in South Sudan now ... If this continues, it is likely to further deteriorate.”
The United Nations reports more than 3.7 million people in South Sudan are going hungry. It warns 50,000 severely malnourished children could die by the end of the year if they do not get immediate treatment.
Mabec says ICRC mobile surgical teams are deployed in areas affected by fighting and have treated more than 1,200 patients. He says the agency has provided basic needs for almost 200,000 displaced people.
“We continue, of course, working on the issues of compliance with humanitarian law," he said. "This remains one of our main concerns and we keep on a dialogue with both parties to the conflict and remind them of their obligations to abide by these very fundamental principles.”
The Red Cross message that civilians must not be targeted does not appear to be getting through to the warring parties. The United Nations mission in South Sudan has accused rebels of killing more than 200 civilians last week after seizing the town of Bentiu. A rebel spokesman denied the charge.