South Sudan's leaders must do more to end crisis

Here’s a blog from my recent visit to South Sudan, also available on the Huffington Post.

While the eyes of the world rightly look towards global crises in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine and West Africa, there is a serious and worsening humanitarian disaster almost going unnoticed in South Sudan.

It is deeply saddening to see a country that was once so full of hope for the future, now embroiled in such a painful and destructive war with itself. When I first visited South Sudan less than two years ago I was struck by the optimism and hope that filled the air but today it is an entirely different story.


Since December violence has spread through the country forcing 1.7million people to flee their homes. The conflict between the Government and Opposition party supporters has created in its wake one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Some 400,000 people are now refugees in neighbouring countries, numbers the UN expects to double by December.

And yet the situation could get worse as the threat of famine looms large. This year’s planting season has been neglected by people fleeing their home to escape the violence and aid agencies have warned of the risk of food shortage. Already people are dying from food insecurity and the UN predicts that some 50,000 children could die of malnutrition before the year is out, even before famine is formally declared.

It is an increasingly desperate situation and last week I visited South Sudan to see for myself just how severe it is. It is clear that even now there are already chronic food shortages. At an International Rescue Committee nutrition centre in Ganyliel Town, I saw many children suffering from malnourishment. I met a young mother whose infant child was severely under-nourished and had severe medical problems. Her struggle to feed her child with the limited supply of food available to her was deeply moving.


The UK has contributed £125million to help those caught-up in this crisis. This includes £30 million I announced during my visit for refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. This will help deliver food, shelter, basic hygiene needs, safe water, immunisation and essential supplies such as mosquito nets, kitchen sets and fuel. But the UN’s Crisis Response Plan remains under-funded, and we desperately need other donors to contribute more too.

The truly appalling tragedy about this crisis is that it is wholly man-made. Ultimately aid cannot fix the problem, only help deal with the consequences. South Sudan’s leaders must accept full responsibility for starting the conflict and now must work to end it. Politicians need to honour the agreements they have already made, but ignored, to stop the fighting. These were the messages I delivered to the South Sudanese Government during my visit, and which they and leaders of the armed opposition need to hear loud and clear from us all.

Now is the time to prevent a man-made famine in South Sudan

Here is a blog from my latest visit to South Sudan. Also available on the Department for International Development site.

I can clearly remember my first overseas visit as a DFID minister. It was just under 2 years ago, in October 2012. I was struck by the optimism and hope that filled the air of this new and ambitious country.

On Monday I returned to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to find an entirely different situation.

A humanitarian crisis has gripped the country since fighting broke out last December. Over 1.7 million people have fled their communities in fear of their lives. Over 4 million people – one-third of the population – are ‘food insecure’. While famine for this crop season has been averted, UNICEF estimates that up to 50,000 children could still die before the end of the year, and there is a very high chance that the situation could deteriorate further and that famine will be declared in early 2015.

It is heart-breaking to see what has happened to this country so soon after it was born as a nation.

Lynne Featherstone at the IRC run nutrition centre in Ganyiel where they assess, monitor and record the needs for children. Picture: David Shaw/DFID

To see first-hand how DFID is helping some of the people who are at risk, I ventured 90 minutes by plane to Ganyliel Town, located at the southern end of Unity State.

I saw how a nutrition centre, run by the International Rescue Committee, is helping the local community deal with the lack of food. The centre can diagnose, monitor and treat malnutrition. The workers weigh and measure the circumference of children’s arms, to assess what assistance they need.

Those who are severely malnourished are given plumpy nut, a peanut based high-energy paste that’s rich in vitamins and minerals, and can be eaten straight from the packet.

Another facility treats children with severe medical needs. I met a young mother whose infant child was severely under-nourished and poorly. I was deeply moved to hear about her struggle to feed her child with the limited supply of food available to her.

Lynne Featherstone meets a young mother and child in Ganyiel, South Sudan. Picture David Shaw/DFID

Action must be taken now. Yesterday I announced £30 million of additional funding to help support the South Sudanese people who have fled in fear for their lives to neighbouring countries. But more still needs to be done.

Over 100 women arrive with Jerry cans to collect water for families and people with disabilities in the local community. Picture: Ian Hughes/FCO

Other donors need to step up. But ultimately the responsibility lies with those with power in South Sudan. The government and the opposition must reach a peace settlement soon and provide much-needed assistance to the people of this young nation.

Perhaps then, next time I visit, there’s a chance the country will have returned to the optimism and hope of its early years.