The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien informed the UN Security Council that it is faced with the most devastating humanitarian crisis since the end of WW2 and the birth of the UN. The countries highlighted are Kenya, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia, all of which are faced with famines and the diseases associated with food insecurity. This, of course, will affect the most vulnerable of society: the elderly, the children and the women. These form of disasters are all too common and entirely avoidable as they are human-made creations by dictators and strongmen. This has been outlined by Amartya Sen, who stated there has never been a famine in a democracy.
This combined crisis is affecting 20 million people, with people in the West looking for some way to alleviate the suffering of those affected, including charitable donations, sending goods, and even volunteering abroad. This crisis has also sparked the support of celebrities who have taken to social media in order to gain awareness and donations. However, O’Brien has called for a desperately needed $4.4 billion in order to avoid a “catastrophe.” This is an absolutely staggering sum of money that seems to have accumulated after warning signs were ignored.
To focus on the case of South Sudan, the UN has measured that it has 7.5 million people in need of assistance, with 3.4 million displaced. South Sudan is a young country, having gained independence in 2011, and has struggled blindly onwards in a childhood engrossed in violence, descending into civil war in 2013. This conflict has directly consumed 50,000 lives, with ephemeral cease fires and peace talks. Furthermore this war has had knock-on effects in neighbouring countries. This includes a flow of refugees, as well as rebel groups taking refuge across borders, all of which has the secondary effects associated with Civil Wars, such as the spread of communicable diseases, leading the UN to label South Sudan as a “Regional Menace.”
It seems paradoxical that South Sudan finds itself in such dire need, since in 2011 – 2012 the National Resource Governance Institute measured an oil production of half a million barrels a day. As typical of the resource curse, this unattached wealth has polluted the governmental standard. Following the script of African despotism, President Salva Kiir lives in the lap of luxury funded by corruption whilst a brutal Civil War rages in the periphery of his mansions and luxury shopping trips. The origins of the Civil War? A coup d’etat in 2013 to acquire the envied wealth of the leader.
There have been calls for increased demand for transparency in the oil dealings of South Sudan and other countries in the clutches of the resource curse. However, I believe that whilst it may seem paradoxical and even cruel, the way to prevent future humanitarian crisis is by moving away from this victim status we have attached to those affected. Furthermore we need to examine ourselves in the West free from the saintly self conception we seem to have adopted, and examine the role that our governments and oil companies have had in creating these crisis, historically, politically and through rampant cut-throat capitalism. Giving is easy, especially blindly and at arm’s distance. I propose, as has Leif Wenar, we must enforce sanctions affecting our oil companies and the dictators holding their countries to ransom so that these natural resources can be spread to all the citizens of the country who the wealth rightly belongs to. Whilst these resources may have created this predicament in the first place, they may also be its redemption; as the French origins of the word “resource” is to rise again.