UN official calls for more international attention on South Sudan

UN official calls for more international attention on South Sudan
The agreement, signed by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir with rebel factions, was designed to end a civil war. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 16 December 2020

UN official calls for more international attention on South Sudan

UN official calls for more international attention on South Sudan
  • David Shearer praises peace deal’s achievements ‘but progress is lagging’

NEW YORK: The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has urged the international community to direct its attention to the country as it struggles to get back on its feet following a 2018 peace deal.

The agreement, signed by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir with rebel factions, was designed to end a civil war that had killed over 50,000 people, displaced 2 million, and stalled the country’s political progress since it had gained independence in 2011.

While intercommunal violence remains a threat, political violence has reduced significantly since the peace deal was signed.

UNMISS chief David Shearer praised the progress made in the formation of a transitional government, led by Kiir with First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar.

“These achievements are to be commended, but progress is lagging,” Shearer warned, adding that many other peacebuilding benchmarks stipulated in the deal, such as the Transitional Security Arrangements aimed at unifying the security forces, continue to stagnate.

“This hold-up leaves a local vacuum of power and makes it difficult to nip in the bud brewing intercommunal violence,” he said.

Briefing a virtual meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC), Shearer stressed the importance of international engagement in driving the momentum of the peace process in South Sudan.

The lack of international support and guidance contributes to “the sense of drift that people are frequently remarking upon,” he said.

“Nevertheless, collectively we still need to remain focused on South Sudan and guide the peace implementation.”

Despite a recent 64 percent drop in violent incidents, 2,000 people lost their lives this year in intercommunal conflicts that are being “weaponized and turbocharged by external actors acting in their own economic or political interests,” Shearer said.

He warned of an imminent descent into chaos, prompted by several factors that have come to form a “perfect storm” on top of the widespread poverty the South Sudanese are reeling under.

The top UN envoy to the country told ambassadors that severe food insecurity is plaguing half the population.

“It’s driven by displacement from conflict and severe flooding, which is affecting around a million people, with the loss of livestock and crops,” he said.

Amid fears that tensions may worsen with the onset of the dry season — which often sees farmers competing over scant resources — and the worsening economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the specter of famine is now looming large over the world’s youngest nation.

The latest IPC Acute Food Insecurity analysis has found that communities in six South Sudanese counties are facing “famine likely” or “catastrophic” conditions.

Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian affairs chief, pointed to the link between “catastrophic levels of food insecurity” and violence.

“We see the highest levels of food insecurity in the places most affected by violence,” forcing civilians who are already in a precarious position to adopt “harmful coping mechanisms” such as early marriage or dropping out of school, Lowcock told the UNSC.

The UN has allocated $40 million for South Sudan this year, but he called for more funding to meet growing needs.

“We need more funding to ensure food and livelihoods, health services and other lifesaving programs are supported (across) the entire country,” he said. 

Shearer said: “What South Sudanese citizens want is very simple: Peace.” He urged parties “to take concrete steps to breathe fresh life into the (peace) process — above all, to compromise — to achieve the peace dividends that citizens deserve.”

He added: “As always, we’ll be right by their side, doing everything we can to make the hopes of the South Sudanese people for a peaceful and prosperous future a reality.”


Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle
Updated 16 January 2021

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

KABUL: When Hanan Habibzai became a refugee in 2008, he left Afghanistan with a sense of responsibility toward all those left behind, especially widows and orphaned children.
As he made the UK his new home and managed to establish himself, Habibzai founded Helping Orphans in 2016, a charity that gives vocational training and literacy courses to women and children.
Helping Orphans estimates that there are as many as 3.5 million widows and 2.6 million orphans in Afghanistan today. Often uneducated, the women face few options if their husbands die, while children end up working out of necessity and never receive an education.
“What will happen to these children when they grow up? Their parents are taken away and they are left alone in poverty and hardship, and they have never been in school,” Habibzai told Arab News.
“What can we expect from these children when they grow and take control of their communities except problems? So, I established this charity to help vulnerable children and orphans join school. These are the exact reasons as to why I established Helping Orphans.”
As his family was displaced by the Afghan-Soviet war of the 1980s, Habibzai knows from his own experience what hunger and poverty mean. The situation in the country has become even worse now, he said, after the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001.
Before he left Afghanistan, Habibzai worked as a journalist, traveling across the country’s provinces, witnessing hopelessness and despair.
“Within the Afghan poverty-stricken and war-torn nation, I see displaced families, a refugee going through many difficulties, a 10-year-old orphan becoming responsible for feeding his family, or a woman who has lost her husband and now has to look after her children while she has nothing,” he said.

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Helping Orphans estimates that there are as many as 3.5 million widows and 2.6 million orphans in Afghanistan today. Often uneducated, the women face few options if their husbands die, while children end up working out of necessity and never receive an education.

“Today I live in the UK. I have everything here. My family and I have three full meals a day. But back in Afghanistan, there are many people who do not even have a single meal a day and are facing severe poverty and hardship.”
The latest survey by the UN indicates that 18 million people in Afghanistan — half of the country’s population — are in need of emergency aid.
In the beginning, through donations from individuals, Helping Orphans provided direct relief in the form of food and cash, but in June last year Habibzai realized that more sustainable efforts were needed.
In Kabul, the charity now enrolls children in school while their mothers take part in three-month courses to become tailors, allowing them to be self-reliant. About 20 women have completed the first training courses. One of them is Shamila, who lost her husband, a commando soldier, and was left alone with a young son about two years ago.
“The world had come to an end for me with the death of his father when my child wept,” she told Arab News.
“I joined the workshop of the charity, learned tailoring and it has been a big change both mentally and financially,” she added. “I am a tailor at home now. I earn money this way and have been able to stand on my feet.”
The charity is now planning to open more courses and teach other professions, like hairdressing, to help women provide for themselves.
“We want the aid to have a long-term impact on the lives of people, so beneficiaries can learn a profession,” said Helping Orphans Director Abdul Fatah Tayeb.
“We want them to learn how to fish rather than giving them a fish. The fundamental goal is to make people self-sufficient.”