GANYIEL, SOUTH SUDAN —
A top U.S. politician visiting South Sudan says he will urge colleagues to maintain assistance to the country despite severe cuts in foreign aid proposed by the Trump administration.
Senator Christopher Coons (D-Delaware), who is in rebel-controlled Ganyiel of former Unity State this week, said he was shocked to learn that the town's entire population depends on humanitarian agencies for food.
The senator noted there are no roads going into and out of Ganyiel, so all equipment and relief aid must be delivered by air, which is extremely expensive.
“We will have to make stronger arguments for why particular U.N. missions and particular countries should remain a priority," Coons told VOA's South Sudan in Focus on Monday.
"South Sudan currently has the largest and most difficult refugee problem in the entire continent of 54 countries. I think it should remain a priority but there will be some difficult negotiations between Congress and the Trump administration,” said Coons.
Since the outbreak of South Sudan's conflict in late 2013, the United States has contributed at least one billion dollars toward humanitarian aid in the African country. The budget proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump would cut total U.S. aid abroad by more than 30 percent.
This marks the first visit to South Sudan for Coons, the former chairman and member of the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs. The U.S. lawmaker also visited a refugee camp in neighboring Uganda, which hosts hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese who fled the violence back home.
Coons said he came to Ganyiel to familiarize himself with U.S.-funded projects aimed at combating hunger and health problems in the area. U.N. agencies declared two counties of former Unity State famine-stricken in February.
Coons also visited Panyijar County, which hosts tens of thousands of internally displaced persons who fled to the area from Mayendit and Leer, the two former Unity State counties hit by famine.
Panyijar County Commissioner John Tap asked Senator Coons to deliver to a message to the Trump administration.
“The Obama administration was not serious about resolving the South Sudan conflict,” said Tap. He said even if the U.S. government continues to pour millions of dollars into South Sudan for humanitarian aid, it will do nothing if there is no peace. He called the money “useless.”
Coons urged South Sudanese leaders to find workable solutions to the conflict.
“This is not the time to assume that the U.S. will always be present and will always provide support. I think that makes it an urgent time for the leaders of South Sudan to find a peaceful resolution to the widening violence and the conflict,” he said.