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SOUTH SUDAN: Worsening food crisis

JUBA, 20 February 2012 (IRIN) – An already dire food situation in South Sudan could deteriorate amid growing economic problems, food shortages and a mass influx of people fleeing Sudan in the next two months, agencies warn.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said that in South Sudan’s first year of statehood, half the population of about nine million people could face hunger.

Their Crop and Food Security Assessment report shows that for 2012, 4.7 million people will be food-insecure, up 1.4 million from last year, and the number of severely food-insecure will hit almost one million from 900,000 in 2011.

South Sudan will only produce about half the food it needs, with a cereal deficit of 470,000MT due to erratic rains and internal conflict displacing many away from fields.

Last month, a huge wave of ethnic violence in South Sudan’s largest state, Jonglei, affected more than 140,000 people and until peace talks are organized, the situation remains precarious.

In addition to a poor harvest, huge waves of returnees from Sudan or refugees fleeing violence across the border have compounded food shortages.

“If conflict continues to cause major population displacements and food prices keep rising, the report estimates that the number of people who are severely food-insecure could double,” a joint FAO-WFP statement warned.

“This is a rapidly approaching crisis that the world cannot afford to ignore,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s country director in South Sudan.

South Sudan’s Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Joseph Lual Achuil, urged people to try to salvage what they could from the planting season before the rains come or 1.7 million people would be “severely affected by starvation”.

“If we don’t do our best in order to rescue the situation now, 4.7 million will be without food, and if they are without food before the rain, after the rain what is going to happen? We are going to have a disaster,” he said.

Time and money running out

Food prices have skyrocketed since major trading partner Sudan closed its border months before South Sudan gained independence, with food from neighbouring countries hit by rising fuel prices, transportation costs and illegal taxation.

George Mabany, an aid worker in Bentiu, state capital of the oil-rich Unity state near Sudan’s border, said prices had tripled since May, when Sudanese troops occupied the contested region of Abyei and the borders closed.

Mabany said 1kg of grain had doubled in price to 100 pounds (US$28) as all food was now being trucked up from Uganda. The price of 50kg of sugar had tripled to 85 pounds ($24), he said.

Items such as eggs and onions were no longer available and while the market had a small amount of fruits and vegetables, nobody could afford them.

Depreciation of the South Sudanese pound has also caused a hike in prices. Dependent on oil for 98 percent of its revenues, South Sudan’s decision in late January to halt oil production in a bitter row with Sudan over transit fees could spark rampant inflation.

WFP only has about a third of the $250m needed to reach a planned 2.7m people this year, and only has a few months until the rains start to bring in enough food before large parts of the country are inaccessible by truck.

“Come May, the logistics capacity of moving large stocks around doesn’t exist any more because of the rains and the poor logistics of the country,” said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, deputy director of WFP. “At the moment, we don’t have enough money even for what we have planned already.”

“The situation is dire, and we are doing everything we can to be ready, but we are running out of time,” Nikoi said.

Fleeing starvation

Up to 500,000 people in two of Sudan’s war-torn border states could flee southwards when the rains come and there is nothing left from last year’s poor harvest.

Conflict broke out in South Kordofan in June when government forces clashed with those formerly loyal to South Sudan, and spread to neighbouring Blue Nile in September.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has refused to allow aid agencies into conflict areas, and frequent aerial bombardment and violence have forced more than 417,000 people to flee their homes and fields, according to the UN.

Some 80,000 people have already crossed into South Sudan, many suffering from malnutrition, malaria and pneumonia after months of hiding in the bush and scavenging food.

Princeton Lyman, US envoy to the two Sudans, has warned of an imminent famine if there is no intervention.

“What you have now is a sense of urgency. In a couple of months we are in what is typically the hunger season, both in Sudan and South Sudan, and obviously the impact on those populations is potentially very serious,” Da Silva said.

Rights group Amnesty International said that even six months ago, people scattered in the bush were surviving on dwindling food supplies and wild fruits.

“Civilians continue to live in precarious conditions with insufficient food, shelter or access to healthcare and in fear of being bombed. It is essential for the civilian population from these two areas to receive impartial humanitarian assistance,” AI’s UN ambassador Renzo Pomi said.

“There is a sense of urgency that the window for an effective intervention with the populations where they are is narrowing,” said Da Silva on negotiations with the North.

WFP has also been stopped from accessing stocks in Sudan to bring south of the border, so it is trucking food all the way from the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Fears of mass deportations

Aid agencies are also extremely concerned about the fate of up to 700,000 southerners still thought to be living in the north, who face a deadline to get legal or get out by 8 April.

As relations sour between the two nations, there are fears that hundreds of thousands of people could descend on the impoverished south within months.

But provisions for how southerners can legalize themselves have yet to be made, while Khartoum has closed the port of Kosti where barges packed with thousands of people leave for the South.

South Sudan says trains have also been prevented from leaving, while the other options of flying and trucking people through dangerous territory filled with mines are unworkable for the numbers and time limit.

The UN has appealed for $763m for South Sudan in 2012, but says more will likely be needed with the expectation of more crises, while aid agencies are already struggling with the current caseload.

“Of course we’re not ready for any kind of major movement from the north to south, considering what we’re dealing with in South Sudan already – capacity is already extremely stretched,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, said recently.

“I think that everyone needs to recognize that if we do have to face those challenges in the next two to three months, our resources will be extremely stretched,” she added.


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SOMALIA – ‘Disaster fatigue’ must not dull compassion for starving children – UN

The head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today made an impassioned appeal to the world to save an estimated 390,000 starving children in famine-ravaged regions of Somalia, saying the international community must not let the so-called “disaster fatigue” numb compassion and generosity.

“I have read in the last few days a number of articles noting a decrease of interest in the Horn of Africa in the press and in the publics. This must not happen. We cannot let a kind of disaster fatigue set in,” said Anthony Lake, the UNICEF Executive Director, at a news conference at UN Headquarters to mark World Humanitarian Day.

“The statistics can be mind-numbing, but remember that the data is sons and daughters. The statistics are little boys and little girls, every one of them,” said Mr. Lake, adding that the situation in Somalia was a “human disaster becoming a human catastrophe.”

In addition to the tens of thousands of Somalis who have already died as a result of the drought-induced famine, which has been exacerbated by conflict and poverty, an estimated 390,000 children are suffering from malnutrition. Four fifths of them are in the worst affected areas of the country’s south-central zone.

“In some areas there we are seeing already historically high rates of severe acute malnutrition… which means that the number of children in that zone facing imminent death is approaching 140,000 children,” said Mr. Lake. “In many ways this is a children’s crisis. Their plight demands and deserves our most urgent, bold and sustained response,” he added.

“I think that in all of us […] there is a natural desire when confronted with the images of people suffering so much to push them away, to categorize them as victims and to thus separate their lives from ours.

“That is wrong. They are not simply victims to be pitied. They are courageous, resilient human beings fighting under terrible circumstances to survive and save their children’s lives. They both deserve out admiration and our support in their desperate struggle, and we are struggling to provide it,” said Mr. Lake.

He warned that the onset of the next rainy season is not due until October and projections indicate that the entire central and southern Somalia will suffer the same extreme food and nutrition crisis now prevailing in the five areas where famine has been declared, with almost 300,000 children in imminent peril.

“The crisis will get worse,” said Mr. Lake. “There will be no major harvest until the beginning of next year and those are predicted to be below average.

“We are in a fight against time. We must take from these facts and projections not hopelessness, not surrender, but a renewed determination to limit the deaths, to save lives and to know some day that we did all we could today. We need all the support that we can get in order to do this,” he added.

Mr. Lake said that UNICEF had established hundreds of nutrition centres and programmes in Somalia and was reaching more than a million people with water and sanitation. The agency is also planning a measles vaccination programme that is expected to reach two million children in the coming months.

Speaking at the same news conference, Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that despite stepped-up efforts aid agencies were not reaching as many people across the drought-stricken Horn of African with life-saving assistance as they would like.

“We are all working as quickly as we can to provide life-saving aid and protection in the [Somali] capital, Mogadishu, across the border in refugee camps particularly in Kenya and Ethiopia and increasingly in the south, in Al Shabaab-controlled areas.

“But we are still not reaching enough people. Donors and the public have continued to give generously, but we still need more than a billion dollars to provide all the aid that is needed,” said Ms. Amos, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.


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TABUNG Kemanusiaan dilancar


KUALA LUMPUR 20 Ogos – Malaysian Relief Agency (MRA) dan Kumpulan Utusan hari ini melancarkan Tabung Kemanusiaan Somalia bagi membantu rakyat negara itu yang kini dilanda krisis kebuluran dan wabak penyakit seperti taun, malaria dan tibi.

Ia merupakan kesinambungan kerjasama kedua-dua pihak dalam usaha mengumpul dana bagi menyalurkan bantuan kepada mangsa-mangsa bencana.

Presiden MRA, Datuk Dr. Abdul Razak Kechik berkata, bantuan segera perlu dihulurkan agar malapetaka lebih teruk seperti kematian terutama di kalangan kanak-kanak dapat dibendung.

“Somalia adalah satu ujian bukan sahaja kepada penduduk di sana tetapi juga masyarakat negara ini dalam menunjukkan keprihatinan membantu mereka yang memerlukan.

“Lebih-lebih lagi Islam amat menggalakkan ikatan ukhuwah Islamiah yang mana kita sebagai saudara seagama perlu mengambil tahu dan membantu tidak kira di mana mereka berada,” katanya pada majlis pelancaran tabung itu di Hospital Pakar Al-Islam, Kampung Baru di sini yang turut dihadiri Timbalan Ketua Pengarang Kumpulan Utusan, Othman Mohamad.

Sehingga kini, lebih 12 juta penduduk di Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia dan Uganda menghadapi kebuluran disebabkan musim kemarau terburuk dalam tempoh 60 tahun.

Somalia merupakan negara yang paling teruk dilanda kemarau di Afrika dengan lima kawasan diisytiharkan berdepan dengan kebuluran yang kini mula merebak ke negeri-negeri Wilayah Selatan.

Abdul Razak berkata, sebagai langkah awal, pihaknya akan menghantar Pengarah Eksekutif MRA, Mohd. Shahrulazilan Said bersama seorang lagi sukarelawan MRA dalam misi kemanusiaan pertama yang akan berlepas ke Somalia pada 23 Ogos ini.

Misi tersebut katanya, akan turut menyalurkan bantuan awal bernilai RM70,000 untuk penyediaan makanan, bekalan air dan nutrisi bagi kanak-kanak di negara itu.

Kata beliau, MRA dijangka beroperasi selama tiga bulan untuk fasa pertama dan melalui pengalaman beberapa misi kemanusiaan terdahulu, pihaknya yakin dapat membantu melakukan penilaian untuk projek jangkamasa panjang sekiranya memerlukan.

“Kumpulan pertama misi itu akan berada di Somalia dalam tempoh dua hingga empat minggu sebagai pasukan peninjau. Kita mempunyai jaringan mantap dengan warga Somalia yang menuntut di negara ini serta kerajaan wilayah Puntland yang akan membantu misi kita semasa di sana,” katanya.

Sementara itu, Othman berkata, Kumpulan Utusan berbesar hati dengan kerjasama MRA terutama dalam berkongsi misi mengumpul dana tabung itu dan akan sedaya upaya membantu dari segi promosi dalam usaha mengumpul sebanyak mungkin dana bagi tabung tersebut.

Sebelum ini, Kumpulan Utusan pernah bekerjasama dengan beberapa agensi bagi menyalurkan bantuan kepada mangsa-mangsa tsunami, gempa bumi dan sebagainya di seluruh dunia.

Segala sumbangan bagi Tabung Kemanusiaan Somalia boleh disalurkan ke akaun Malaysian Relief Agency (MRA) menerusi nombor akaun 5640-9820-6365 (Maybank).

Sebarang pertanyaan lanjut mengenai sumbangan untuk tabung itu boleh menghubungi talian 03-26972007/012-2096577 atau melayari laman web http://www.mra.my.

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At least 69 children dead in Sudan food crisis – UN

KHARTOUM, Sept 25 (Reuters) – At least 69 children have died from malnutrition and sickness after floods washed away crops in isolated villages in southeast Sudan in recent weeks, U.N. agencies said on Thursday.

Blocked roads and a lack of air transport are preventing the supply of emergency rations to parts of the region, the agencies added.

Aid workers fear for villagers in the Kurmuk region of Blue Nile state, where thousands of former refugees have returned home in the past few months after years of exile across the border in Ethiopia. Some remote villages unreachable by aid workers are at increased risk, the agencies said.

The U.N.’s refugee agency said villagers in the region had used up six months of emergency food given to them when they arrived in Bellila and nearby villages earlier this year.

“There is now a food crisis,” an agency spokeswoman said. “The harvest was bad and food prices in the market are very high. The seeds that were in the field have also been washed away by floods.”

The U.N.’s World Food Programme said it has a month’s worth of emergency food for the region, but floods had blocked roads and it has not yet obtained air transport to supply the aid.

Villagers who fled more than two decades of north-south civil war in Sudan have been slowly returning to the area after a 2005 peace deal, but three years on and the region has seen little development.

A report from the U.N.’s mission in Sudan, seen by Reuters, said the World Health Organisation sent a team to Bellila this month to set up a health clinic and to assess the situation.

“The findings were alarming. The returnee community had finished their six-month food ration some months ago and did not have sufficient food ever since,” the U.N. report said.

The report said 48 children died in the village of Gindi and another 21 in Borfa in August and September, all of them aged one to six. They died from malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria.

Almost half of the 1,200 villagers needed medical treatment, a situation likely to be similar in other remote areas of Kurmuk, the report said.

Sudan, in the midst of its annual rainy season, has been hit by a series of floods in recent weeks, but the U.N.’s refugee agency said the needs were particularly acute in Blue Nile because of the remoteness of the villagers.

Villagers were also in a particularly vulnerable condition having just returned after years in refugee camps, it added.

(Writing by Andrew Heavens in Khartoum)

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