Lynne Featherstone: South Sudan - a country on the brink of famine
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Address by the Development Minister at the South Sudan Humanitarian Conference in Oslo, announcing additional UK aid and calling on all parties to commit to ceasefire, talks and unfettered humanitarian access.
I would like to thank Norway and OCHA for hosting and organising this meeting at this critical time for South Sudan. My thanks to the Chairs, Foreign Minister Borge Bende and Baroness Amos.
I am deeply saddened to be here today. In 2012, I made my first overseas visit as a Minister for International Development to South Sudan. The young country, born out of a proud dream and a lifetime’s struggle, faced enormous challenges.
But there was a sense of possibility; a sense that South Sudan could invest in its people, generate opportunities, move forward with hope. I visited a training centre for young people and talked to a group of girls about their hopes and expectations – their desire to complete school and improve their lives.
How far we are from that sense of hope today…
Half of the population of South Sudan, are in need of humanitarian assistance.
1.3 million people have fled their homes - 300,000 to neighbouring countries. There have been 5 months of egregious human rights violations. South Sudan is now, as a result, a country tottering on the brink of famine.
These dire circumstances cannot – must not – continue.
The agreement signed by President Kiir and Dr Machar on 9 May – a commitment to a ceasefire, political talks and unfettered humanitarian access - offers a way out. Commitments must result in tangible changes and improvements throughout South Sudan. A rekindling of hope will then be possible.
I applaud the work that IGAD has done to mediate the negotiations.
South Sudan must grasp this opportunity to move forward rather than backwards: towards development rather than destruction.
We all need to be clear. The responsibility for the well-being of the people of South Sudan sits with the leaders of South Sudan. The road to a lasting peace will require difficult decisions.
Leaders will be judged by history, and by the people of South Sudan, on the basis of the steps that they take to bring an end to the suffering that has been caused by this crisis.
As a first step, this time, the ceasefire needs to endure. And immediate practical steps need to be taken to increase the speed at which aid reaches the people.
Clearance through customs for humanitarian goods should only take a few days rather than almost a month. Their movement within South Sudan, whether by road or river barge, should also be facilitated and not obstructed as it has been too often over the last months.
There should be an end to the looting of emergency relief supplies and respect for the safety and security of humanitarian assets and staff. Respect for International Humanitarian Law and protection – especially for women and girls – is also a critical responsibility of all leaders and their followers.
Both sides need to ensure that there are no repeats of the horrendous human rights abuses that have been reported in Juba, Bor and Bentiu, and that those responsible face justice, not impunity. And I hope that the government will quickly set out its credible response to the UNMISS human rights report, including the proposal to establish a hybrid court.
Through these difficult times the UK has stayed true in our commitment to the people of South Sudan. We have refocused our support to increase our emphasis on humanitarian assistance, while maintaining core development programming on health, education and food security.
I call upon the government of South Sudan to increase the investment of its own resources in health, education and food security as part of its response to the looming crisis.
Since the start of the crisis we have allocated almost £21 million to help meet humanitarian needs within the country and an additional £13 million to support refugees in the region.
I want to acknowledge our partners and the excellent work that has been done by the Humanitarian Coordinator, the UN Country Team, UNMISS, the ICRC and international and national NGOs that are helping to support the people of South Sudan in their hour of need.
I also want to acknowledge the generosity and safe haven shown by governments in the region to refugees from South Sudan arriving in their countries.
But more resources are needed to scale up the response both inside the country and for refugees.
Today I am able to announce a new commitment of £60 million, equivalent to around $100m, for the response within South Sudan.
We will help to strengthen front line delivery, including protection for women and girls, through the UN and NGOs with particular attention on hard to reach areas. We will support the key pipelines, including through a £16m contribution to the World Food Programme. We will help to ensure that help reaches those in need through an investment in shared logistics.
In conclusion, I would like to return to my conversation with the young girls in Juba in 2012.
To me those girls – from across the country – represent the hope and future of South Sudan.
Some shy. Some confident. But all supportive of each other. And all proud of the investment they were making in their own development.
Girls like those are the future of South Sudan and they deserve better.