On 14 December 2017, members of the “Troika” countries (Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom) described the situation in South Sudan as "intolerable". 1
The Troika, in a joint statement, welcomed the revitalization forum of the 2015 peace deal, describing the forum as a unique and critical opportunity to make progress towards peace between warring political factions and tribal groups in South Sudan.
The humanitarian, economic, security, human rights and political situation continues to deteriorate with devastating consequences for the ordinary people of South Sudan, it said.
The statement pointed out that over half the population now has insufficient food and a third of the population has fled their homes, causing the largest refugee crisis in Africa.
“This situation is intolerable to the region and the international community. It cannot continue,” the statement reads.
Another ceasefire was signed on 21 December 2017 in Addis Ababa, and came into force on 24 December. However on 2 January 2018, after reported violations, the Troika already felt the need to issue a warning and a request for South Sudan's warring sides to respect the cease-fire.2
According to OCHA,3 the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are about 7 million people in need as we head into 2018, with currently about 2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) within South Sudan and slightly more than 2 million refugees in neighbouring countries. OCHA figures at the end of November 2017 were 1.9 million IDPs and 2.1 million refugees.4
The United Nations claims to be reaching 5.1 million people with assistance but this still leaves around 2 million without major UN aid. Official aid can be intermittent, with increases and decreases in the amount of aid delivered in any context, depending on funding available at that time as well as problems in the supply chain.
The current situation needs to be understood in the context of the past history of Sudan, with 21 years of civil war to 2005 and then the independence of South Sudan in July 2011. But the new state of South Sudan enjoyed less than three years of independence and hope for a better future before the outbreak of internal conflict in 2014. Rivalry between political leaders, and ethnic tensions between different tribal groups, led to devastation of a country that already had very little and was near the bottom of the global table in many indicators of health, education, literacy, life expectancy and infrastructure.
As Amnesty International states5
The conflict in South Sudan has devastated the lives of millions of people. Both government forces and armed opposition groups have committed violations and abuses against civilians with impunity, brutality and an utter disregard for human life.
The conflict has been pursued with little restraint on either side. Indeed extreme brutality, mutilation, torture, sexual violence against both genders and other crimes against humanity have been used as weapons of war in order to terrorise, ethnically cleanse, suppress dissent, and perhaps deliberately to polarise ethnic communities. In many ways the atrocities bolster each leader’s position among his own people group and political faction - if all bridges have been burned and there is little prospect of dialogue or compromise with the “other”.
Destruction of crops and food supplies6 is a common weapon of war, also used in South Sudan, to destroy the enemy’s ability to feed its people. In November 2017 Amnesty estimated that 1.25 million of South Sudanese were facing starvation, with others facing food insecurity and rising prices.
One other consequence of the widespread conflict is that it is very difficult to move humanitarian assistance to where it is needed inside South Sudan. It is reported by OCHA/Reliefweb7 that nine humanitarian aid workers were killed in South Sudan in just one month (November 2017), and a total of 116 “humanitarian access” incidents were recorded for October and 103 for November 2017. Outbreaks of violence, or threats of violence, force aid agencies to relocate to safer areas, but leave local populations behind. Aid vehicles and aid stocks have been looted by different armed groups.
One perverse recent event has been the announcement of new work permit rates that could cost aid agencies around £5 million in fees, money that could be spent on humanitarian supplies – according to Reliefweb.8