The World Food Program (WFP) has cited violence between ethnic factions as causing insecurity and blocking deliveries of food aid to the areas of South Sudan that are most in need, provoking fears that the latest peace agreement may not be holding. Last month’s deal aimed to usher in a power-sharing arrangement between President Kiir’s government and rebel leader Riek Machar, who met with each other on Wednesday at a peace summit in Juba.
The WFP has singled out the Western Bahr el Ghaza region as a site where the severity and spread of hunger have been alarming in the past 12 months. “Food distributions were briefly provided in September, after four months without access, but insecurity is again preventing us from accessing the area,” it said. Rates of malnutrition are above 25% in many areas of South Sudan, and the ongoing civil war is contributing to extreme insecurity and danger for those attempting to deliver aid. The situation is becoming so severe that many have fled the country to neighboring states such as Ethiopia and Uganda.
While Wednesday’s celebrations in Juba might appear to be a step in the right direction, it remains to be seen whether the power-sharing arrangement between the parties is sufficiently well structured to reconcile their competing interests. “It’s the same model that spectacularly failed before, without the reasons for that failure being addressed,” said Alan Boswell, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. The key issues in South Sudan are fundamentally concerned with trust, and any measures to implement a provisional government by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) should take careful steps to build trust and confidence between the parties. UNMISS head David Shearer commented, “We will use our resources and our presence across the country to support reconciliation and peacebuilding.” Success in doing this will be critical given that fighting is along mainly ethnic lines. Initial measures should have at their heart mechanisms to give insurance to food programs and assist the nation in achieving better food security for its people. This is a significant challenge, and any workable deal towards this requires significant external aid to encourage powerbrokers to halt fighting.
South Sudan gained independence in 2011, and the ongoing civil war had its foundations in ethnic conflict, sparked by an initial mutiny of members of the presidential guard in December 2013. Insurgencies and raids have been prevalent in recent years, and the subsequent insecurity has led to famine level malnutrition and food insecurity. So deep has the issue become that a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study, estimates that nearly 400,000 have perished since the civil war began. As well as dwindling food resources, South Sudan has seen over 4 million people displaced, with 2.5 million of those having fled the country.
Any success that measures around enhancing access to food aid will have are directly dependent on how well the most recent peace deal is respected. A process of trust building and reconciliation must commence soon to begin healing some of the scars of civil war. Such steps are vital to reduce insecurity and allow access to those providing aid who need greater support and funding from the international community. South Sudan will only be able to recover if such a reconciliation process can be implemented and embraced to the full.
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