Crisis in South Sudan - We cannot afford to wait and we cannot afford to fail

Posted by Lisa MacReady Media Officer, Oxfam Scotland

15th May 2014

Today we are launching an urgent appeal for funds to help the people of South Sudan as the crisis reaches a 'now or never moment'. More than a million people have been forced from their homes by fierce fighting. They have lost everything, many living in makeshift camps in the most awful conditions. We are providing urgently needed food, water and sanitation and are calling for a surge in the aid effort to avoid catastrophic levels of hunger and suffering.


Our guest blogger, Dumfries born David Crawford, recently returned from heading up Oxfam's humanitarian programme in South Sudan. 

From my office in Dumfries to a sprawling camp in South Sudan - the contrast couldn't be starker. But when I took the call from Oxfam, I knew there was no time to lose. 

Having previously helped coordinate their response to the Boxing Day Tsunami, the famine in West Africa and the civil war in Darfur, the urgency of the crisis in the world's newest country was clear. Right now, more than a third of South Sudan's people, some 3.7 million, are facing emergency and crisis levels of hunger and are in need of immediate assistance. 

Oxfam is providing life-saving support to those forced to flee the fighting which started late last year after political divisions led to inter-ethnic bloodletting and it is one of the few aid organisations who decided to stay in Juba after the fighting broke out. 

Since then we have seen an alarming increase in the number of people facing hunger and in the number of children suffering from malnutrition. To prevent catastrophic levels of hunger we need a massive and rapid global surge in aid, now. We cannot afford to wait and we cannot afford to fail.

It is a scenario I know well from previous crises but four years ago I took the decision to return to Scotland and take up a "normal" job at the Crichton Carbon Centre in Dumfries. However, in January, Oxfam asked if I would return to support their response in South Sudan. Just three weeks later, having been generously given time off by my current employer, I was standing in a long queue in a very hot and stuffy Juba airport waiting to get my passport stamped. 

A day after that I was running a complex, large and fast moving humanitarian programme in an insecure and risky environment, and with the rainy season just round the corner. One of our key programmes operated from a sprawling and ramshackle camp that lay on the outskirts of the capital Juba, known as "UN House". It was a hot and wind-swept camp of about 17,500 people who, even though they had jobs and homes to go to, had no intention of returning to them for fear of being targeted. 

But as well as suffering from hunger and susceptibility to disease, women and children were vulnerable to a lack of security and protection within the camp itself. Just going to the toilets at night was a risky venture. As a result, with financial support from the UK Government, we installed solar lighting in the latrine area, provided women with solar lanterns and erected screens - simple measures that made a huge difference.

But the need is wide. Health posts and hospitals have been looted and destroyed and hundreds of health workers have been forced to flee for their own safety. 

And now aid agencies and the people of South Sudan are facing a new challenge. The rainy season has begun and one of the most pressing tasks is to get seeds and tools to people so that they can start planting their crops. If this doesn't happen soon then the chances of a decent harvest in the months to come will be lost, with devastating consequences for people's ability to feed themselves and their families. 

South Sudan faces a 'now or never moment' to avoid catastrophic levels of hunger and suffering.

If we fail to act now then millions will pay the price. 

A recent cease fire offers some hope for an end to the fighting but the task facing aid agencies remains enormous; in many areas the rains have turned roads into rivers of mud. 

One of the main reasons I always valued my time with Oxfam was because of the quality of people I worked with; I was not disappointed in South Sudan. So far, Oxfam has helped over 180,000 people inside the country and 63,000 who have fled to Uganda - providing food, access to clean water and sanitation, as well as providing household items such as mosquito nets, blankets, cook stoves and charcoal for cooking. 

Oxfam is now calling on governments to respond generously and without delay; starting by supporting the new appeal being launched by the United Nations next week. And today, Oxfam has launched a public appeal to help fund its £15m work programme to deliver aid to people in dire need in the crisis hit country. 

I am now back behind a desk in Dumfries but I am very proud to have contributed to a programme that continues to provide life-saving support. I urge people across Scotland to do the same and support Oxfam's appeal. People can donate now at www.oxfam.org.uk/southsudan or text DONATE to 70066 to give £5. SMS texts will cost £5 plus your standard network rates.

Blog post written by Lisa MacReady

Media Officer, Oxfam Scotland

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