GENEVA, May 18 — Tens of thousands of people forced to flee violence in South Sudan could go hungry, with fighting interrupting the planting season and cutting off supply chains, the Red Cross warned today.
Civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, when president Salva Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup.
Most recently civilians have been uprooted from the opposition-held town of Leer, in an oil-rich part of Unity State, and from Kodok in Upper Nile State, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
It cautioned that hostilities could sever escape routes, and said it feared civilians could suffer from a lack of food and health care while on the run.
In addition, the displacement from Leer, including of many people already uprooted by fighting in Unity state a year ago, "comes just as the country's crucial planting period is under way," ICRC said in a statement.
"The upheaval will no doubt negatively impact residents' ability to plant food that would be used to feed their families next harvest season," it said.
The fighting had also forced the ICRC to halt its regular activities and reduce its staff in Leer, where the organisation has one of its largest food distributions in the world.
"Prolonged displacement exposes people to suffering. We fear that the situation of some 100,000 people in Leer, who are now hiding in unimaginably difficult conditions, will worsen day by day," said Franz Rauchenstein, who heads the ICRC's delegation in South Sudan.
"The ICRC must be able to access these communities. We call upon all involved in the fighting to facilitate the lifesaving work of Red Cross workers," he added.
The fighting in the world's newest country, which only gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been characterised by ethnically-driven massacres, rape and attacks on civilians and medical facilities.
The violence, which has escalated into an ethnic conflict involving multiple armed groups, has killed tens of thousands of people.
ICRC said today that intensified shelling in the area of Kodok town was endangering the lives of patients at a hospital it supports there, and said that although the hospital remained open, it had moved its nearby operational base to Oriny.
It reminded all parties involved in the fighting that civilians and medical facilities cannot be targeted, according to international law.
"The more fighting in South Sudan expands, the more... the vulnerable will suffer, whether from the risk of sexual violence, a lack of food and medicine or forced conscription of the young," ICRC said, stressing that using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is a war crime. — AFP