Refugees living in South Sudan and neighboring countries are “close to the abyss” of death if donor countries do not raise $1.4 billion to respond to the growing famine and drought conditions this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Programme (WFP) said Monday. So far, a response plan to aid refugees in South Sudan and six neighboring countries has only been 14 percent funded.
Humanitarian organizations in the region are facing the tough decision to cut food rations anywhere between 20 percent and 75 percent at refugee camps, resulting in a rise of malnutrition rates. Because of the ongoing civil war in South Sudan, the number of refugees fleeing the country spiked from 102,700 in mid-2013 to 854,200 in mid-2016. By March 2017, over 1.7 million South Sudanese refugees had fled to the six countries represented by the Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP): the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.
The larger than anticipated refugee movements have shifted funding priorities and created shortages that affect the quality of life in all aspects. For example, only 3 percent of children, who make up 60 percent of the population of South Sudanese refugees, receive post-primary education. Classroom sizes are four times the recommended size, with a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:146.
“The suffering of the South Sudanese people is just unimaginable,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley said Monday in a press release. “They are close to the abyss. Violence is at the root of this crisis. Aid workers often cannot reach the most vulnerable hungry people. Many are dying from hunger and disease, many more have fled their homeland for safety abroad.”
By the start of the 2017 fiscal year, 90,000 South Sudanese refugees had fled to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, two-thirds of whom have been there since conflict started in 2013. Uganda is experiencing higher than expected arrivals, which could soon become host to to more than one million South Sudanese refugees. And an additional 30,000 South Sudanese refugees are expected to arrive in the Democratic Republic of Congo this year, bringing the total number of refugees in that country to 105,000.
Without increased aid from donor countries like the United States, experts worry that the livelihood of these people could be severely compromised.
“The situation in South Sudan has never been so dire,” Deepmala Mahla, the country director of the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps South Sudan, told ThinkProgress. “Cutting aid when half of the population doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from is unfathomable, especially from a country (the U.S.) that has long supported South Sudan.”
President Donald Trump previously proposed a 31 percent budget slash for funding to places like the United Nations and other affiliated agencies, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proposed a 26 percent cut. Tillerson also called to incorporate the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) into the State Department. A former U.S. ambassador expressed concern that the proposed budget cut could have a “serious impact on Africa.”
“When we speak with families who have been forced to flee because of the conflict in South Sudan, they tell us they just want to be able to live in peace, to farm their lands and to raise their children,” Mahla said. “Refugees are people like you and me, looking for safety and a better life.”