In your opinion, is it possible to resolve the crisis in South Sudan peacefully?
One way forward is to implement what is recommended in the IGAD recommitment to Cessation of Hostilities signed in January, which is for what they described as “a month of tranquility”, from May 7 to June 7. This “month of tranquility” is directly outlined in the IGAD protocol in order to bring about full humanitarian access and operations in the war-affected areas.
Can you elaborate a bit on how a famine would affect the people of South Sudan if this situation is not resolved?
Unless there is an intervention of food stuffs on a widespread scale, on a consistent scale to fight the malnutrition, that is already present and growing, then this food insecurity situation will result in greater and greater deaths of the citizens who are very vulnerable, including nearly half a million children of the 1.3 million who are displaced.
And I understand that this famine is a political situation, it is not the result of weather.
Right! Alex Duval, who is a great thinker in the humanitarian studies arena, has long argued that famine is the result of political crises and a failure of political development. And we are clearly seeing that now. All of the press releases and the statements from the World Food Program, from the Food and Agricultural Organization have argued that this is the worst situation that we’ve seen in 15 years in South Sudan.
So, we are returning again to a situation that will have very long-ranged challenges for the country and it may become a greater source of political instability, unless the needs of the citizens of South Sudan are met. Really, the focus needs to be on Riek Machar and Salva Kiir committing to this one month of tranquility.
Why is the ceasefire not working?
One of the problems with any conflict situation is that once a war is started, it is hard to stop. And I think it is quite an apt assessment.
One of the problems with the army is that Salva Kiir may face the situations where there is sort of acting out, individual agendas or fears of threats. Within Riek Machar’s paramilitary structure there are actors who may not be able to be under a direct control as tightly, as one would hope. We’ve seen this on the Lebanon-Israel border quite often.
At this point, there has been no independent verification of whether or not the Government improperly fired or the rebels attacked. So, there’s been no determination on the situation. What is needed is full restraint and, ultimately, demobilization – disarmament and reintegration of Riek Machar’s paramilitary organization.
Is the month going to be enough time tough?
The idea of this sort of quelling of hostilities is really an opportunity for the humanitarian aid organizations to regroup, if you will. This is very-very important that they have this opportunity not only create these bases needed for the delivery of aid, but also to locate where people are. You have a country where you have almost a million people internally displaced.
So, you are talking about people in remote areas where the humanitarian aid organizations may or may not know where people are, which adds to this concern of growing insecurity. You also have a situation where you have displaced people who had moved to the communities that may be food secure, but the displacement effect is causing these communities to have an overload in their capacity to meet people’s needs.
The international community must work to hold this month-long period with the hope that it will reduce the intensity with which the conflict is felt among the fighters and, hopefully, allow Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to execute greater over their forces in order to uphold this agreement.
Are there humanitarian agencies on the ground right now?
Yes, there is a massive effort underway of the international nongovernmental organizations, like the World Food Program, like UNHCR, Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children and you also have regional NGOs. All of these organizations are endeavoring to work in the country, however the conditions of continual fighting is what is creating this urgent situation in terms of widespread food insecurity. This is what is obstructing.