Members enter the United Nations General Assembly. Picture: REUTERS
Members enter the United Nations General Assembly. Picture: REUTERS

The UN appealed for $2.7bn to help South Sudanese refugees on Tuesday, saying a funding shortfall for Africa’s biggest refugee crisis had left many short of food, water and medicine.

The appeal follows five years of civil war that have forced about 2.2-million South Sudanese to flee to neighbouring Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is nearly double 2017’s figure.

Despite a peace accord signed by the government and rebel groups in September, the UNHCR said it did not believe the refugees could yet return safely, and the countries hosting them urgently needed international help.

“Schools are lacking teachers, classrooms, and educational materials leaving half of South Sudan’s refugee children out of school,” it said in a statement. “Health clinics have insufficient doctors, nurses and medications.”

It said low funding had led to food rations being cut in Ethiopia and water supplies in Sudan limited to 5l a day.

In 2018 the UNHCR received less than 40% of the total $1.4bn it appealed for.

More than eight in 10 refugees are women and girls who are at high risk of sexual assault, abduction and sex trafficking, according to the UNHCR. Spokesman Charlie Yaxley said about two-thirds of the refugees are under 18, calling it a “real children’s crisis”

“Many have undergone incredible trauma, having witnessed barbaric violence,” he said. “Others have lost one or both of their parents to the conflict. More than anything, they have all been deprived of the innocence of their childhood.”

A study in 2018 found that one in four teenage girls in South Sudan has considered killing herself, traumatised by physical and sexual violence.

South Sudan erupted in conflict in 2013 after President Salva Kiir sacked Riek Machar as vice-president. Ethnically charged fighting soon spread, shutting down oil fields and forcing millions to flee. There have been sporadic incidences of fighting since the latest agreement was signed, but violence has largely died down. 

Thomson Reuters Foundation