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UN agencies confirm that famine is now reality in South Sudan

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- Three UN agencies said wars and a collapsing economy have left some 100,000 people facing starvation in parts of South Sudan where famine was declared on Monday.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) on Monday also called for urgent action as almost 5 million people urgently need food, agricultural and nutrition assistance.

The UN agencies said famine was currently affecting parts of Unity State in the northern-central part of the country, adding that a further 1 million people are classified as being on the brink of famine.

"A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger.

"The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted more than three years ago," they said in a joint statement issued in Juba.

FAO Representative in South Sudan Serge Tissot said famine had become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan.

"Our worst fears have been realized. Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive," Tissot said.

"The people are predominantly farmers and war has disrupted agriculture.

"They have lost their livestock, even their farming tools.

"For months there has been a total reliance on whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch," he added.

According to the UN agencies, if sustained and adequate assistance is delivered urgently, the hunger situation can be improved in the coming months and further suffering mitigated.

The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released on Monday by the government, the three agencies and other humanitarian partners, 4.9 million people—more than 40 percent of South Sudan’s population—are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.

Unimpeded humanitarian access to those facing famine, or at risk of famine, is urgently needed to reverse the escalating catastrophe, the UN agencies urged.

Jeremy Hopkins, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, said over 1 million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country, while over a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished.

"If we do not reach these children with urgent aid many of them will die.

"We urge all parties to allow humanitarian organizations unrestricted access to the affected populations, so we can assist the most vulnerable and prevent yet another humanitarian catastrophe," Hopkins said.

The IPC report estimates that 14 of the 23 assessed counties have global acute malnutrition (GAM) at or above the emergency threshold of 15 percent, with some areas as high as 42 percent.

WFP Country Director Joyce Luma said the UN agencies will step up their humanitarian assistance cross the country to reverse the spread of famine.

"But we have also warned that there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve," she added.

Over three years of conflict have severely undermined crop production and rural livelihoods.

The upsurge in violence since July 2016 has further devastated food production, including in previously stable areas.

Soaring inflation, up to 800 percent year-on-year, and market failure have also hit areas that traditionally rely on markets to meet food needs. Urban populations are also struggling to cope with massive price rises on basic food items.

The three UN agencies, with other partners, have conducted relief operations since the conflict began and intensified the efforts throughout 2016 to mitigate the worst effects of the humanitarian crisis.


UN agencies report famine in parts of South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS New York (Xinhua) -- Three UN agencies have warned that war and a collapsing economy have left some 100,000 people facing starvation in parts of South Sudan where famine was declared on Monday, Farhan Haq, the deputy UN spokesman, told reporters here.

"A further one million people are on the brink of famine," Haq said at a daily news briefing here.

"The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted in the country more than three years ago."

World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director Joyce Luma stressed that this famine is man-made, Haq said, adding that she said the entire humanitarian community has been trying with all its might to avoid this catastrophe, mounting a humanitarian response of a scale that would have seemed impossible three years ago.

But she said there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WFP also called for urgent action to prevent more people from dying of hunger, he said.

"If sustained and adequate assistance is delivered urgently, the situation can be improved in the coming months and further suffering mitigated," Haq said.

"Unimpeded humanitarian access to everyone facing famine, or at risk of famine, is urgently needed to reverse the escalating catastrophe."

Famine has been declared in parts of Unity State in the northern-central part of South Sudan, the youngest country in the world.

The formal announcement means people have already started dying of hunger.

Three years of civil war has been going on in the oil-rich country after it gained independence from Sudan at the end of one of Africa’s longest running conflicts.

Unity State, which borders Sudan, has been at the centre of some of the fiercest fighting, while tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes in the face of a government offensive against opposition-held areas.


South Sudanese army dismisses tribalism allegations by renegade top officers

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The South Sudanese army (SPLA) on Monday dismissed allegations of tribalism leveled against it by former top officials who resigned last week.

SPLA spokesman Brigadier Lul Ruai Koang told journalists in Juba that the army courts were not applying double standards in prosecuting those believed to have committed rapes, killings and looting of property during especially the renewed July clash, last year.

"There are no sacred cows in SPLA when it comes to application of punitive measures and in fact, before and July 2016, 72 out of 82 SPLA officers, noncommissioned officers and men punished for war crimes were from Dinka ethnic group," he revealed.

This came after two high ranking military officers overseeing the army’s military courts quit and authored a critical dossier exposing the ethnic favouritism afforded to President Salva Kiir and Army chief Paul Malong’s Dinka tribe officers where the former allegedly exempted them from prosecution.

Brigadier General Henry Oyai Ngago, former Director for military justice and Colonel Khalid Ono Loki, the former head of military courts, became the latest officers to quit after the elite Lt. General Thomas Cirilo Swaka, the former Deputy Head of logistics resigned from the SPLA over similar allegations of tribalism and abating of crimes committed against non-Dinka tribes.

"SPLA is not a tribal army.

"In fact, those officers who had defected are going to be part and parcel of purely tribal outfits that is Agullek, SPLA-IO.

"To the contrary SPLA has more national composition and outlook," Koang added in a statement.

The renegade officers also accused the army of deliberating fanning ethnic killings in mostly Equatoria and Upper Nile regions where fighting is still ongoing between SPLA-in opposition (SPLA-IO) and SPLA forces.

They added that the SPLA was illegally arresting civilians and subjecting them to torture in detention cells, hence reinforcing various human rights reports by the UN documenting heinous atrocities committed in Yei South West of the capital and in northern towns of Malakal and Bentiu.

"On arrest of civilians, let them provide us with lists of civilians currently in military detention facilities and the leadership will not hesitate to look into circumstances under which they were arrested," Koang said.

Koang also denied allegations of deliberate recruitment of child soldiers in the rank and file of the SPLA.

"We challenge concerned bodies/institutions to go on fact finding mission to SPLA divisions in order to confirm for themselves that we have no child soldiers in our rank and files," he added.

South Sudan has been shattered by civil war that broke out in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

Machar denied the accusation but then mobilized a rebel force.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 led to the formation of a transitional unity government in April, but was again devastated by fresh violence in July 2016.

Tens of thousands of South Sudanese have been killed, with over 2 million displaced and another 4.6 million left severely food insecure, since December 2013.

South Sudan may miss 2018 elections: experts

by Denis Elamu JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudan is unlikely to host the much-expected elections in 2018 due to delayed implementation of key election provisions in the the Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) to end more than three years of conflict, experts have said.

Experts interviewed by Xinhua in Juba said the transitional unity government (TGoNU) since formation in April last year has not yet expedited the process of setting up the National Constitution Amendment Commission (NCAC) crucial for drafting and reviewing election laws that could affect the 2018 polls scheduled in May.

South Sudan has not had democratic elections since it won independence from Sudan in 2011 after more than two decades of civil war that ended with President Salva Kiir ascending to power through referendum vote, ushering in a transition period in the oil-rich and yet impoverished country.

According to the ARCISS, the NCAC shall in not later than six months enact the National Elections Act (NEA) 2012, reconstitute the National Elections Commission (NEC) which has not yet been done after more than one and half year since the birth of the ARCISS.

The Minister of Information Michael Makuei cast doubt on the probability of holding elections, saying the subject was premature right now to be discussed due to other pressing needs at hand.

"It is premature for us to talk of elections next year," Makuei said, adding that the NCAC will be formed later on to undertake its role.

"The ARCISS says that within the first six months of its signing you have to amend the NEA 2012, and that amendment has not yet been done.

"Perhaps others who think that elections could be done anytime from now may not have read the peace agreement properly," said Jacob Dut Chol, professor of politics at Juba University.

"The other important thing in the ARCISS says within the first seven months the NEC should be reconstituted again.

"You reconstitute, restructure it and appoint the commissioners by the President and his First Vice President which has not been done," he added.

"There are very strong caveat to these things of elections, you must ensure there is peace, ceasefire in the country.

"To do elections you need voters in Upper Nile, Equatoria regions, and genuine peace not just peace you hear in newspapers, but peace that shows there are no gunshots," Chol said.

He added that the prevailing insecurity amid mass displacements in several parts of the country meant population census critical for elections could be difficult to undertake and eventually affect preparations for the upcoming elections.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said there are 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries, besides more than 2 million displaced in UN Protection of Civilians sites.

The last South Sudan census carried out in 2008 put the population of South Sudan at 8 million people.

South Africa-based law expert Remember Miamingi told Xinhua that elections are not peacemaking mechanisms, but could only be conducted until there is peace and security in South Sudan, noting that more than half of the populations are still in Protection of Civilians sites and refugee camps.

He added that elections would also cost millions of dollars for a country that is nearly bankrupt as the TGoNU’s requests for donor assistance to support its meager deficit-budget since last year has failed to materialize.

"In fact peace, security, safety and food are the immediate need of South Sudanese.

"Elections are the immediate need for those struggling to purchase legitimacy," he added.

Miamingi highlighted the need to resuscitate the ARCISS that has suffered setback since renewed clash in July last year.

"I do not see how elections can be held in 2018 in the absence of the implementation of the agreement that called for it in the first place," he revealed.

Juba-based political analyst James Okuk told Xinhua that the TGoNU needs to first incorporate the ARCISS provisions into the transitional constitution 2011 which has so far not happened.

He expressed doubts whether elections could successful be held early next year without silencing the guns.

"It is impossible to conduct any elections considering what we have right now (war).

"Unless, the government wants to conduct elections in only territories that they control," Okuk added.

South Sudan’s major highway still a death trap for travellers

by Denis Elamu JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudan’s only tarmacked major highway, the 123-mile Juba-Nimule road, remains a death trap in the eyes of many who endure hours of travel along the potholed road linking the war-torn country to the Ugandan border.

According to Isaac Mashete, a driver for Eco-Bus one of the few bus companies plying along the Juba-Kampala highway, he is always wary of a bullet striking him at his seat along with others on board by armed groups operating in the shadow on the road.

"The first thing you fear is a bullet, other accidents are common and whenever they occur the wreckage on the scene is not carted away and so further accidents reoccur," Mashete told Xinhua on Sunday after he negotiated the tortuous journey to arrive in Juba.

Since the renewed July clash in Juba last year the highway has claimed more than 100 lives, including shooting at the Ugandan army convoy evacuating people fleeing fighting and the February shooting to death of a top ranking South Sudan army (SPLA) Brigadier has reinforced public fear and anxiety.

Those who always risk the journey have told Xinhua that the persistent robberies, killings along the key transport corridor of South Sudan is driven by the fact thousands of illegal weapons being in hands of civilians who impersonate security agencies.

Mashete, added that on several occasions some ill disciplined security people and criminals not particularly rebel outfit have resorted to carrying out robberies, which he attributes to the prevailing economic hardship in the country that has led to delayed salaries for the SPLA and police officers.

"Another thing there are several people with guns and uniforms.

"And it is difficult to distinguish who is a government soldier or impersonator.

"So the government should disarm the population," he revealed.

He also disclosed that ever since last year, when of one of their Eco-bus was attacked by gunmen who later set the ill-fated bus ablaze; he is relieved this year they haven’t yet been attacked.

But, adds that with the coming of the rainy season starting February, the tall grass and trees along the road will grow and will affect visibility which gun men will take advantage of to stage deadly attacks on travelers.

Mashete urged the authorities to help cut down the tall trees and grass along the road to give visibility to drivers, thus avoiding road ambushes that have been a permanent occurrence before subsiding in January, this year.

SPLA spokesman Brigadier Lul Ruai Koang revealed to Xinhua that the gun men behind attacks of vehicles use hit-and-run tactics where they exploit the distance between the over stretched soldiers deployed to patrol the road.

"The only problem you cannot have soldiers stretched along the 90 km road because the attackers use hit-and-run tactics and this is a problem," Koang revealed.

He added the army continues to patrol the main transport road, which net importer South Sudan relies on entirely for most goods and services from the East African region.

Another bus driver Musisi Godfrey told Xinhua that besides negotiating the pot holes on the road, the various illegal checkpoints mounted by security agencies were frustrating as one has to keep paying loose change at these posts which further delays a journey that would take three hours to negotiate.

"I have a person I brought and he had been cleared with the immigration office, but when he returned shortly from Juba while heading to Kampala, they (officers) requested again for the very requirements and yet they were not expired," he disclosed, adding that some officers were harassing and extorting money from travelers illegally.

South Sudan forms committee for new capital city construction

by Denis Elamu JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudan said Monday that it had formed a high-level committee led by the country’s vice president Taban Deng Gai to fast track the construction of the planned capital city Ramciel.

President Salva Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told Xinhua in the capital of Juba that Kiir set up the committee to carry out physical and feasibility studies around Ramciel in the former Lakes State, whose central location is believed to be an ideal site for the new capital.

"Already the committee has been formed that will take up the issue of the new capital, it will work in conjunction with the Moroccan officials," Ateny said.

"So the work is immediate as soon as the President issued the decree," Ateny said.

Morocco and South Sudan agreed to the ambitious construction of Ramciel that will see the government relocate from current capital Juba by 2022 after the visit by Moroccan King Mohammed VI earlier this month.

South Sudan barely has enough infrastructure like roads, hospitals, schools and electricity due to underdevelopment resulting from more than years of civil war and conflicts.

The country is currently mired in economic stagnation with annual inflation peaking over 800 percent, and huge budget- deficit due to conflict reducing oil production that South Sudan depends upon to finance 98 percent of its fiscal budget.


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