Dozens of humanitarian non-governmental organizations operating in South Sudan, some of them for up to a quarter of a century, have welcomed the 'fragile' ceasefire agreement signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week, between the warring parties in Juba but expressed deep concern about the prevailing humanitarian situation there. A press statement by OXFAM, received in Khartoum on Sunday, said 55 major humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in South Sudan have expressed their deep concern about the current humanitarian situation in the country and reaffirmed their commitment to help all civilian populations in need of assistance.
The 55 NGOs have been deeply alarmed at the scale of human suffering in the country in the past six weeks, and so welcomed the recent agreement for the cessation of hostilities between the Government of South Sudan and the opposition forces.
The release underlined that these agencies would continue to call upon all parties to the conflict to protect civilians, to refrain from targeting attacks on civilian areas, and to distinguish between civilians and combatants.
It stressed that the NGOs themselves operate in accordance with the four key humanitarian principles of the Humanitarian Imperative, saying that NGOs seek to alleviate human suffering, wherever it is found.
They stressed in their statement that they are also impartial in their activities which means that aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind.
Aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone.
Wendy Taeuber, Country Director of the International Rescue Committee, was quoted as said that “Collectively, we want to be able to help all people in need, wherever they may be located in South Sudan and regardless of who is controlling that area.'
However, the release stressed, NGOs emphasized that in order to be able to provide assistance to those who need it, it is essential that all actors recognize the independence of NGOs, and ensure respect and protection for their staff, assets, facilities and humanitarian activities.
“We call upon all parties to the conflict to allow unimpeded humanitarian access and to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of our staff,” said Caroline Boyd, Medair’s Country Director.
“Violence against aid workers is always unacceptable,' added Alan Paul, Country Director of Save the Children, “and any restrictions on the movements or activities of NGOs simply hinder us from providing vital assistance to those South Sudanese who need it most”.
Sadly, at least three aid workers, all South Sudanese nationals, have been killed since 15 December.
“Access is urgently needed”, noted Mercy Corps’ Country Director Mathieu Rouquette, “as the rainy season will be starting in just a few months, which will make it difficult to transport supplies and leave some locations entirely cut off'.
The NGOs reiterated that their neutrality means they are not military actors or party to the conflict.
“Although some NGOs are currently providing assistance to displaced people seeking shelter within UNMISS bases, we are maintaining our independence and respecting humanitarian principles as separate entities from UNMISS,” explained Emilie Poisson, Country Director of ACTED.
South Sudan gained independence on 9 July, 2011, and is the world’s newest country. Out of a population of about 12 million, it is estimated that more than half a million people have been displaced since fighting broke out just over one month ago.
The majority of the 55 NGOs have been working in South Sudan for at least 10 years, and several have been present for more than 30 years.
In 2013, the agencies collectively spent over one-quarter of a billion US dollars on humanitarian and development programmes to assist the people of South Sudan.