Famine stalks millions in South Sudan after droughts, floods: U.N.

Famine stalks millions in South Sudan after droughts, floods: U.N.
By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Famine threatens the lives of up to 5.5 million people in South Sudan, where droughts and flooding have destroyed crops and livestock, compounding “intense political instability”, the United Nations warned on Thursday.

The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said it needed $270 million urgently to provide food to hungry South Sudanese in the first half of 2020 and avert mass starvation in the world’s youngest country.

“Every factor is in place for there to be famine in 2020 unless we take immediate action to expand our deliveries in areas affected by floods and other areas affected by food loss,” Matthew Hollingworth, WFP country director, told Reuters.

“We need to pre-position food around the country in the next two to three months,” he said, noting that road access to many remote communities would be impossible after the rainy season sets in.

The government declared a state of emergency in late October in Bahr El Ghazal, Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria after months of flooding, WFP said in a statement.

Nearly 1 million people are directly affected by the floods and the waters have not receded in many places, it said.

“The scale of the loss from the harvest is enormous,” Hollingworth said, speaking by telephone from Juba.

Fields with 73,000 tonnes of sorghum, millet and corn have been lost as well as tens of thousands of cattle, chickens and goats on which families depended for survival, he said.

Acute malnutrition rates in children under the age of five have risen from 13% in 2018 to 16% this year, Hollingworth said, adding: “They have gone above the global emergency threshold of 15%.”

Water-borne diseases are spreading, although no cholera has been detected, he said.

“It can only get worse because of the situation and environment people are living in,” he said.

Civil war broke out in oil-producing South Sudan in 2013, less than two years after the country gained independence from Sudan following decades of war. The conflict that has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

Inter-communal fighting still occurs in pockets hit by the flooding, Hollingworth said.

“Hunger and desperation bring instability when resources are stretched to the extent that makes an already unstable situation much worse. It is a wake-up call for us all,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

IOM suspends some Ebola screening after three aid workers killed in South Sudan

IOM suspends some Ebola screening after three aid workers killed in South Sudan
By Denis Dumo

JUBA (Reuters) – The U.N. migration agency has suspended some screening services for Ebola after three of its aid workers were killed in South Sudan, the latest deadly incident involving relief staff in the violence-ridden country.

In a statement, the International Organization for Migration said the workers – two men and one woman – were hit by crossfire during clashes between rival armed groups in the country’s central Equatoria region.

It said the IOM had stopped screening for Ebola at five border points between South Sudan, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, where an ongoing outbreak of the haemorraghic fever has killed thousands of people.

The dead woman’s four-year-old son was abducted along with another local female IOM volunteer during the armed clash, the IOM said. Two other male volunteers were injured, including one who is recovering from a gunshot wound.

Humanitarian workers are often targeted by rebels operating in South Sudan, which has been in the grip of war that first broke out in late 2013 between soldiers allied to President Salva Kiir and those of his former deputy Riek Machar. Last year, 10 aid workers went missing in Yei, in the same region.

“We …reiterate that humanitarians and civilians are not and should never be subjected to such heinous acts of violence – we are not a target,” IOM Director General António Vitorino said.

It was not clear who was behind the latest fighting.

In the past, government forces have clashed in the region with fighters from the rebel National Salvation Front, led by renegade former General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, who is not a party to a peace deal signed last year by Kiir and Machar.

Lul Ruai Koang, the government’s military spokesman, said that on the day of the attack Cirillo’s fighters had targeted a government position, and that one soldier was killed along with nine from Cirillo’s side.

“If they (National Salvation Front) went and killed the aid workers, this is what I do not know. But the attack on our defense positions didn’t involve any humanitarian workers,” Koang said.

The National Salvation Front was not immediately reachable to comment on the killings.

(Reporting by Denis Dumo with additional reporting and writing by George Obulutsa in Nairobi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Finland tops world’s happiest countries list again: U.N. report

FILE PHOTO: Girls wearing flower garlands celebrate the summer solstice during the Seurasaari open-air museum's Midsummer Eve festival in Helsinki, Finland June 22, 2018. LEHTIKUVA / Heikki Saukkomaa via REUTERS/File Photo

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland topped the ranking of the world’s happiest countries for the second year in a row, with the Nordic countries taking the leading spots, an annual survey issued on Wednesday showed.

South Sudan came last in the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s 2019 World Happiness Report.

It ranked 156 countries according to things such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption.

Taking the harsh, dark winters in their stride, Finns’ happiness is boosted by access to nature, safety, affordable childcare, free education and heavily subsidized healthcare.

The top 10 was again dominated by the Nordics, with Denmark, Norway and Iceland taking the other leading spots followed by Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria. The United States dropped one place to 19th.

“This year’s report provides sobering evidence of how addictions are causing considerable unhappiness and depression in the U.S.,” the network’s director Jeffrey Sachs said in a statement, adding that they were referring to addictions in many forms from substance abuse to gambling and digital media.

Among the 20 top gainers since the 2005-2008 average ranking were 10 countries in Central and Eastern Europe, five in sub-Saharan Africa and three in Latin America, while the five that fell the most were Yemen, India, Syria, Botswana and Venezuela.

Benin saw the largest gain over that period, rising 50 places in the rankings.

(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Anne Kauranen and Ken Ferris)

War-ravaged South Sudan passes budget, but funding will be ‘difficult’

FILE PHOTO: An armed man walks on a path close to the village of Nialdhiu, South Sudan February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola/File Photo

By Denis Dumo

NAIROBI (Reuters) – South Sudan’s parliament has passed its 2017/2018 budget but, after four years of war, acknowledged it does not know where much of the funding will come from.

Lawmakers voted to boost spending by more than 30 percent, to 46.5 billion South Sudanese pounds ($300 million) from the 2016/2017 budget of 29.6 billion.

Wani Buyu Dyori, undersecretary for planning at the Finance Ministry, told reporters after the approval of the budget on Monday that funding would be “difficult”.

As an example, of why he noted that the main road from Uganda, where most of the country’s food is imported from, is currently flooded and impassable.

Supplies of fuel and food to the capital, Juba, have halted, he said, risking further food shortages and shutting off one of the few sources of non-oil revenue.

“The business community is not getting goods in and whom do we tax if [goods] are not coming?”

The finance ministry said last month that it needs donors to fund more than a third of the proposed budget.

Countries are reluctant to do so due to conflict, corruption and mismanagement. Civil servants and soldiers go unpaid for months.

“We are also looking for loans,” he said, without giving details.

Civil war broke out in 2013 and continues to disrupt the functioning of the government in Juba. The war also slashed oil output, source of nearly 100 percent of hard currency earnings, causing hyperinflation that has rendered the South Sudan Pound (SSP) almost worthless.

The largest expenditure categories in the 46.5 billion SSP ($300 million) are for security, accounting for 27 percent of approved spending, and administration, accounting for nearly 29 percent. Administration includes the office of the president, Salva Kiir.

South Sudan’s leaders and their families have amassed great wealth during the conflict, according to a report by U.S. advocacy group The Sentry, which was co-founded by actor George Clooney. The government dismissed the findings.

The ministry said last month that oil production will fall to around 110,000 barrels per day this year, down from 130,000 which was already half of output at the country’s peak.

The United Nations declared famine in parts of the country in February. The war has forced more than a quarter of the population of 12 million to flee their homes.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

South Sudanese refugees in Uganda near million mark

South Sudanese youths match to attend Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby's visit to Mirieyi refugees settlement camp in Adjumani district, Uganda August 2, 2017. REUTERS/James Akena

By Francis Mukasa

MIREYI, Uganda (Reuters) – Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, prayed on Wednesday with South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda, home to a nearly million fugitives from a four-year civil war in the world’s youngest nation.

Around 1.8 million people have fled South Sudan since fighting broke out in December 2013, sparking what has become the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis and largest cross-border exodus in Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Most have fled south to Uganda, whose open-door refugee policy is now creaking under the sheer weight of numbers in sprawling camps carved out of the bush.

“The Bible tells us that the refugee is specially loved by God,” Welby, leader of the 85-million strong Anglican Communion, said as he joined in prayers in a camp in the northern district of Moyo.

“Which means you who are refugees are specially loved by God, that Jesus himself was a refugee and he loves you and he stands with you and the suffering that you have is the suffering that he knows. So I pray for you, I will advocate for you.”

Officials from the United Nations UNHCR refugee agency say $674 million is needed to pay for the basic needs of the refugees this year, but so far only 21 percent of those funds have been secured.

The total number of refugees is due to pass a million in the next week, UNHCR officials said. Nor is there any sign of a let-up in the stream of desperate civilians.

Some days it is only hundreds. On others, it is thousands.

In the camps, refugees are already on half their standard food rations of 12kg of maize a month, and now critical services such as health and education are facing cut-backs, UNHCR officials said.

In Bidi-Bidi, the largest of the refugee camps, 180 South Sudanese died in the first six months of the year, nearly half of them small children.

“We came here to hide ourselves from death,” said 31-year-old Moro Bullen, standing next to a row of 16 freshly dug graves, mounds of rust-red earth arranged in three neat rows. Half of the graves were only a meter long.

“We did not come here to die. We came here to be rescued.”

SPLINTERED CONFLICT

Although the roots of the war lie in the animosity between President Salva Kiir, who hails from South Sudan’s powerful Dinka ethnic group, and his former deputy, Riek Machar, a Nuer, it has splintered into a patchwork of overlapping conflicts.

Machar is under house arrest in South Africa, having fled there last year to seek medical attention, but there has been little let-up in the levels of conflict, especially in the Equatoria region abutting Uganda.

“It has evolved significantly. There are many actors. Because there are many actors now it has become more violent. The prognosis is not encouraging in terms of achieving peace,” said Brian Adeba of the Washington-based Enough Project.

Refugees have told Reuters of towns and villages emptied by government forces, dominated by the Dinka, with men, women and children summarily executed, and their bodies mutilated.

Rights groups have also reported widespread rape and looting that the United Nations says indicates ethnic cleansing. It has also warned of a possible genocide in a country that only came into being in 2011, when South Sudan split from Sudan.

The government has denied the reports, and said its troops are merely conducting operations against rebel militiamen.

(Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Ed Cropley and Alison Williams)

South Sudan refugees scrounge for scraps as rations slashed in Uganda camps

FILE PHOTO: South Sudanese refugees gather with their belongings after crossing into Uganda at the Ngomoromo border post in Lamwo district, northern Uganda, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File photo

By Pacato Peter Obwot

PAGIRINYA, Uganda (Reuters) – Hunger is forcing desperate refugees from South Sudan to steal food from poverty-stricken locals in northern Uganda, residents say, after a funding crisis compelled the United Nations slash rations in refugee camps by half this month.

More than 875,000 refugees have fled into neighboring Uganda since South Sudan’s civil war broke out in 2013, and the cuts come nearly two months after the United Nations warned the situation was at breaking point.

Ugandans say they have caught hungry refugees taking crops, vegetables or livestock after the World Food Programme (WFP) was forced to cut monthly rations from 12 kg of maize a month to 6 kg.

“The refugees are stealing, they stole a goat at night and their foot marks were traced up to the camp,” said Otti John, 62, who lives near the northern Pagirinya refugee camp.

Another resident, Vukoni Scondo, 29, told Reuters three refugees were arrested for stealing pumpkins from her garden.

A parched and stony stretch of plateaus and savannah, Pagirinya hosts some 35,000 refugees about 30 km south of the border with South Sudan.

Camp authorities there say there has been no violence yet, but worry about clashes if stealing continues.

“These people will go to steal food from nationals and it can cause fights,” said Robert Baryamwesiga, camp commandant for Uganda’s Bidi Bidi, the world’s largest refugee camp.

Many refugees feel they have no choice. There is just not enough money to feed them, said Lydia Wamala, spokeswoman for the U.N. food agency in Uganda. WFP needs $109 million to provide full rations for the May-October period but so far has only received $49 million.

Food prices in East Africa have shot up due to a regional drought. The crisis has fueled widespread hunger in Somalia, parts of Kenya and Ethiopia and famine in South Sudan.

Africa’s youngest nation, South Sudan was sucked into civil war after President Salva Kiir fired his then vice president and rival, Riek Machar, in 2013.

A regionally mediated peace pact signed in 2015 failed within months. Massacres in the capital of Juba sparked violence across the country, fracturing it along ethnic lines.

More than 3 million people, a third of the population, have fled their homes, creating Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide.

Most refugees head to Uganda, which allows them free movement, the right to work and access public services such as education and healthcare. Around 85 percent of them are women and children.

But an average of 2,000 South Sudanese arriving every day since July has left aid agencies unable to cope, forcing some refugees back into the violence to feed their families.

An elderly man in Pagirinya said he knew of at least three families who had returned to their homes in South Sudan this month to seek food.

Refugee Peter Obore, 26, said would soon follow them since he could not feed his wife and their young baby. “I will also leave with all my four brothers and my wife,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kamapala; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Alison Williams)

South Sudan forces killed 114 civilians around Yei in six months: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: A soldier walks past women carrying their belongings near Bentiu, northern South Sudan, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola /File Photo

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – South Sudanese pro-government forces killed at least 114 civilians in and around Yei town between July 2016 and January 2017, as well as committing uncounted rapes, looting and torture, the U.N. human rights office said on Friday.

“Attacks were committed with an alarming degree of brutality and, like elsewhere in the country, appeared to have an ethnic dimension,” a report on the U.N. investigation said.

“These cases included attacks on funerals and indiscriminate shelling of civilians; cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, including those fleeing fighting; often committed in front of the victims’ families.”

Fighting flared when the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), loyal to President Salva Kiir, pursued his rival and former deputy Riek Machar and a small band of followers as they fled from the capital Juba, southwest through Yei and into neighboring Congo.

The pursuit of Machar ushered in a particularly violent period in South Sudan’s Equatorias region, with multiple localized conflicts, particularly in Yei, the report said.

“In view of the restrictions of access faced by (the U.N.), the number of documented cases may only be a fraction of those actually committed. Some of the human rights violations and abuses committed in and around Yei may amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity and warrant further investigation.”

South Sudan army spokesperson Col. Santo Domic Chol told Reuters on Friday that the report was “baseless”.

“This is not the first time the U.N. has accused the SPLA and tried to portray us as enemies of the people,” he said.

“The SPLA is one of the biggest military institutions in the country and it accommodates people from different background and the whole SPLA cannot go out and rape citizens… so it has to be specific that we have seen two or three SPLA soldiers in such location committing such crimes,” he said.

Domic said President Kiir had given orders to all SPLA commanders in Yei to punish soldiers who commit gender-based violence.

South Sudan has been in chaos since Kiir and Machar’s rivalry first sparked a conflict in December 2013, with U.N. investigators finding gang rape on an “epic” scale, ethnic cleansing and, most recently, famine.

But Yei, a traditionally ethnically diverse area, had been largely peaceful, the report said.

The town had an estimated population of 300,000 before the crisis began in July 2016, but 60-70 percent of the population had fled by September.

Civilians from Yei and other areas poured into Uganda, with 320,000 arriving as refugees by the end of 2016, 80 per cent of them women and children. About 180,000 more were registered in Uganda by the first week of February 2017.

Many people were trapped by the fighting, and others were attacked on the road as they tried to escape, but the SPLA helped ethnic Dinka civilians – the same ethnicity of President Kiir – to move to the capital, providing them with the use of military and civilian vehicles for transport.

Citing data from South Sudan’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, the report said 46,000 Dinka civilians, mainly from Yei town, had been registered in Juba by the end of 2016.

Violence has continued in the area, with rebel forces attacking Yei and killing at least four government soldiers earlier this week.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Four countries face famine threat as global food crisis deepens

Internally displaced Somali children eat boiled rice outside their family's makeshift shelter at the Al-cadaala camp in Somalia's capital Mogadishu March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

LONDON (Reuters) – Global food crises worsened significantly in 2016 and conditions look set to deteriorate further this year in some areas with an increasing risk of famine, a report said on Friday.

“There is a high risk of famine in some areas of north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen because of armed conflict, drought and macro-economic collapse,” the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) said.

FSIN, which is co-sponsored by the United Nations food agency, the World Food Programme and the International Food Policy Research Institute, said the demand for humanitarian assistance was escalating.

FSIN said that 108 million people were reported to be facing crisis level food insecurity or worse in 2016, a drastic increase from the previous year’s total of almost 80 million.

The network uses a five phase scale with the third level classified as crisis, fourth as emergency and fifth as famine/catastrophe.

“In 2017, widespread food insecurity is likely to persist in Iraq, Syria (including among refugees in neighboring countries), Malawi and Zimbabwe,” the report said.

(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

World has just months to stop starvation in Yemen, Somalia: Red Cross

People queue to collect food rations at a food distribution center in Sanaa, Yemen March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The world has got just three to four months to save millions of people in Yemen and Somalia from starvation, as drought and war wreck crops and block aid across the region, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.

The agency said it needed $300 million to fund its work in those countries and other trouble spots in South Sudan and northeast Nigeria.

“We have probably a window of three to four months to avoid a worst case scenario,” Dominik Stillhart, the ICRC’s director of operations worldwide, told a Geneva news briefing.

“We have a kind of perfect storm where protracted conflict is overlapped, exacerbated by natural hazard, drought in particular in the Horn of Africa that is leading to the situation we are facing now,” he said.

More than 20 million people are facing famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, say aid agencies.

Cholera, which can be deadly for children, is on the rise in Somalia, while an average of 20 people in Yemen are dying each day from disease or war wounds, ICRC officials said.

The ICRC appealed for $400 million for its operations in the four countries this year, but has received only $100 million so far, it said.

The United Nations has appealed for about $5.6 billion, bringing total funding needs to $6 billion, Stillhart said.

“There are significant needs and of course there are serious concerns in terms of having funding available sufficiently fast in order to avert what I said was a large-scale starvation,” he said.

“In 2011 the response was too slow and too late leading to starvation of 260,000 people in Somalia alone,” he warned.

Robert Mardini, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, said that an ICRC team who provided aid to wounded refugees after a helicopter attack killed more than 40 on their boat off the Yemen coast last Friday had collected “evidence”.

The evidence and ICRC concerns were shared with the Saudi-led coalition as well as the Houthi side, he said, declining to give more details.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Tom Miles)

South Sudan government to blame for famine, still buying arms: U.N. report

Women and children wait to be registered prior to a food distribution carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Thonyor, Leer state, South Sudan, February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – South Sudan’s government is mainly to blame for famine in parts of the war-torn country, yet President Salva Kiir is still boosting his forces using millions of dollars from oil sales, according to a confidential United Nations report.

U.N. sanctions monitors said 97 percent of South Sudan’s known revenue comes from oil sales, a significant portion of which is now forward oil sales, and that at least half of the budget – “likely substantially more” – is devoted to security.

“Revenue from forward oil sales totaled approximately $243 million between late March and late October 2016,” the panel of U.N. monitors said in the report to the U.N. Security Council, seen by Reuters on Thursday.

“Despite the scale and scope of the political, humanitarian, and economic crises, the panel continues to uncover evidence of the ongoing procurement of weapons by the … Government for the SPLA (South Sudanese army), the National Security Service, and other associated forces and militias,” the report said.

The United Nations has declared a famine in some parts of the world’s youngest country, where nearly half its population – some 5.5 million people – face food shortages. A civil war erupted in 2013 when Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, fired his deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer, who has fled and is now in South Africa.

“The bulk of evidence suggests that the famine … has resulted from protracted conflict and, in particular, the cumulative toll of military operations undertaken by the SPLM/A in Government in southern Unity state; denial of humanitarian access, primarily by the SPLM/A in Government; and population displacement resulting from the war,” the report said.

The United Nations says at least one quarter of South Sudanese have been displaced since 2013.

‘NOT CORRECT’

South Sudan’s government rejected the report on Friday.

“We have not bought arms for the last of two to three years,” government spokesman Michael Makuei Lueth told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

“We have rights to buy arms for self-protection or self-defense … So this idea of the U.N. saying the government of South Sudan doesn’t care about its people and they are fan of buying arms all the time is not correct,” he said.

The annual report of the sanctions monitors to the 15-member Security Council comes ahead of a ministerial meeting of the body on South Sudan next Thursday, which is due to be chaired by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

While the previous U.S. administration of President Barack Obama was heavily involved in the birth of South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, and led Security Council efforts to try to end the civil war, the policy of new U.S. President Donald Trump toward the African state is unclear.

In December, the Security Council failed to adopt a U.S.-drafted resolution to impose an arms embargo and further sanctions on South Sudan despite warnings by U.N. officials of a possible genocide. The U.N. monitors again recommended in their report that the council impose an arms embargo on South Sudan.

The Security Council set up a targeted sanctions regime for South Sudan in March 2015 and has blacklisted six generals – three from each side of the conflict – by subjecting them to an asset freeze and travel ban.

The U.N. monitors said all parties to the conflict continue to commit widespread human rights violations “with near complete impunity and a lack of any credible effort to prevent these violations or to punish the perpetrators.”

U.N. peacekeepers have been in South Sudan since 2011.

(Additional reporting by Denis Dumo in Juba; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)