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UN calls for protection of women, girls amid famine in South Sudan

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Friday called for increased efforts to safeguard the health and protection of women and girls amid famine in South Sudan.

The UN agency said both women and girls should have access to life-saving food, health facilities, violence prevention and response services, saying famine is especially tough for women.

"In a country that struggles with one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, severe hunger due to famine could increase risks during pregnancy and childbirth," said UNFPA Country Representative Esperance Fundira in a statement issued in Juba.

The famine in South Sudan, borne out of years of war, political instability and drought, now affects more than 100,000 people.

UNFPA said it’s increasingly concerned about the health and well-being of people affected by this crisis, and especially pregnant women as their food supplies are cut short.

According to United Nations estimates, in addition to the 100,000 people who already face famine in South Sudan, 1 million more people are on the brink of extreme hunger, including some 33,000 pregnant women.

Up to 253,000 women of childbearing age could be harmed by the crisis this year.

"With increases in premature or low-birth-weight babies and severe postpartum bleeding, the process of giving life becomes even more likely to result in death," Fundira said.

UNFPA also expressed concern that the famine could worsen already existing conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence.

UNFPA plans to raise 2 million U.S. dollars for the health and protection needs of women and girls.

The Fund also requires some 19 million U.S. dollars to support reproductive health and gender based violence interventions under the 2017 South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan.



Nearly 340,000 people in famine-stricken parts of South Sudan get food aid

UNITED NATIONS New York (Xinhua) -- The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that more than 338,000 people in South Sudan’s Leer, Mayendit, Koch and Panyijiar have received humanitarian assistance since localized famine was declared in Leer and Mayendit, a UN spokesman said here Friday.

In Mayendit county, life-saving activities, including cholera response, remain disrupted as aid workers were forced to relocate on Feb. 26 after being advised to leave by local authorities due to clashes, Farhan Haq, the deputy UN spokesman, said at a daily news briefing here.

"Cholera cases have now been confirmed in Malakal town, bringing the number of counties affected to 14 in the longest and widest outbreak of the disease in South Sudan since it became independent in 2011," he said.

Response efforts are ongoing. 5,574 cholera cases, including 137 deaths, have been recorded since the initial case was reported in June 2016, he said.

The United Nations declared a famine in parts of South Sudan on Feb. 20, increasingly blaming the lack of food and the collapsing economy on the rival forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and the SPLA in Opposition backing Riek Machar.

A formal declaration of famine means that people have already started dying of hunger.

About 100,000 people are facing starvation, and an additional one million are on the brink of a famine, according to the United Nations.

JUBA, (Xinhua) -- Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) queue to receive food donations and an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) carries a sack of maize flour donated by humanitarian organizations at Mahad Camp in central Juba, South Sudan, March 9, 2017. About 9,000 IDPs are living in the makeshift camp after fleeing their homes in December 2013. XINHUA PHOTO: GALE JULIUS

The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.

The situation is worsened for the 3.4 million South Sudanese, who have been displaced and separated from their families.

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan will starve unless relief workers gain access to needy populations and more funding is raised, Stephen O’Brien, the UN emergency relief coordinator, warned on Saturday after meeting malnourished children who fled the raging conflict in the country.

Humanitarian partners, such as the International Red Cross, are setting up clinics directly in the swamps to reach more people.

Some people with nothing to eat survived by chewing on water lilies.

O’Brien, who is also the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, travelled to Ganyiel, Southern Unity state, considered one of the most violent areas in the fight for political control of the country.

He was in South Sudan to see first-hand the critical humanitarian situation and the response which his agency, OCHA, is assisting.

According to the UN agencies, if sustained and adequate assistance is delivered urgently, the hunger situation can be improved in the coming months and further suffering mitigated.

The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released on Monday by the government, the three agencies and other humanitarian partners, 4.9 million people—more than 40 percent of South Sudan’s population—are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.

Unimpeded humanitarian access to those facing famine, or at risk of famine, is urgently needed to reverse the escalating catastrophe, the UN agencies urged.

Over three years of conflict have severely undermined crop production and rural livelihoods.

The upsurge in violence since July 2016 has further devastated food production, including in previously stable areas.

Soaring inflation, up to 800 percent year-on-year, and market failure have also hit areas that traditionally rely on markets to meet food needs.

Urban populations are also struggling to cope with massive price rises on basic food items.

The Fund also requires some 19 million U.S. dollars to support reproductive health and gender based violence interventions under the 2017 South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan.


South Sudanese president pardons political detainees

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on Friday said his government will release political detainees as the war-torn country prepares for national dialogue.

Kiir also revealed that he was aware of only three high profile political prisoners being held by his government.

"People are talking that I have political detainees, I don’t have political detainees.

"If they are there I will free them," he said in Juba.

The three political prisoners mentioned include former Wau state governor Elias Waya Nyipuoch and his ex-deputy General Andrea Dominic who were arrested on accusation of inciting the violent tribal clash in Wau in June 2016 that killed over 43 people and displaced 12,000 people.

Although, he didn’t mention whether the detained James Gatdet Dak former spokesman of rebel leader Riek Machar who was deported last year from Kenya would benefit from the amnesty.

South Sudan held national prayers on Friday that will pave way for the much lauded national dialogue geared toward forgiveness and reconciliation of warring factions following more than three years of violent conflict.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013, following political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.

The war has killed tens of thousands, displaced more than two million from their homes.

However, renewed violence in July 2016 threatened to tear apart a fragile 2015 peace agreement to end the conflict and intermittent fighting in once peaceful Equatoria region led to massive refugee influx of 1.5 million people fleeing brutal atrocities into neighboring countries.

South Sudan prays for forgiveness as national dialogue beckons

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on Friday prayed for forgiveness during national prayers as the war-torn country seeks to heal and reconcile from ethnic divisions caused by the more than three years of conflict.

The national prayers are to set the stage for the much lauded national dialogue initiated in December 2016 by President Kiir to help reconcile and unite the warring factions in the oil-rich and yet impoverished youngest nation.

South Sudan has been beset with more than three years of violent fighting since December 2013, after political dispute between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to killings of tens of thousands and displaced more than 2 million from their homes.

A peace agreement in 2015 to end the fighting was further weakened in the aftermath of renewed July fighting last year that led to the now exiled rebel leader Machar being replaced as First Vice President by his former chief negotiator Taban Deng in the transitional unity government.

The UN expressed fears of ethnic cleansing leading to genocide since conflict spread to once peaceful Equatoria region amid reports of rapes, killings and hate speech.

Ongoing intermittent fighting since July, has forced 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees fleeing violence into neighboring countries, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

Japan to withdraw SDF from South Sudan in May

TOKYO Japan (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that the country will withdraw its Self-Defense Force from a UN mission in South Sudan by the end of May.

The prime minister said that the withdrawal was due to the African country’s "entering a new phase of nation-building."

Japan’s top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide denied later that the withdrawal was a result of the deteriorating security situation in South Sudan.

Japan has been sending its Ground Self-Defense Force personnel to build infrastructure as part of a U.N. mission in South Sudan since 2012.

The African country gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

The mission, however, has been controversial in Japan, as Japanese laws forbid the SDF to operate in areas where combats take place.

Japan’s Defense Minister Tomomi Inada has also been under fire for "downplaying" the seriousness of the South Sudan conflict by referring to it as "armed clashes" while daily activity logs of the Japanese troops there mentioned "combats."

The opposition parties demanded Inada to resign over the issue last month, but Inada dismissed the allegation by saying that there was no combat in South Sudan in legal sense even though the logs suggested otherwise.

South Sudan has been mired in crisis since a political face-off between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar erupted into full conflict in December 2013.

Despite the August 2015 peace agreement that formally ended the civil war, fightings continued between the government and opposition forces and conflict and instability kept spreading in the African country.

The UN Security Council called on all parties in South Sudan to immediately stop fighting last month.


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