NEW YORK, U.S. — South Sudan has made history with the appointment of two women to senior leadership positions within its Transitional National Legislature, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council on Wednesday, as he encouraged parties to build on these gains in efforts to overcome significant political and security headwinds.
Nicholas Haysom, UN Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said 30 August saw the inauguration of the reconstituted Parliament, with members sworn in on 2 August – including the first female Speaker of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and female Deputy Speaker of the Council of States.
“This development paves the way for a much-delayed charge on the legislative programme envisaged by the Peace Agreement”, he said, stressing that it must now be complemented by the reconstitution of state legislatures.
He said the extensive legislative agenda includes passage of priority bills already prepared by the National Constitution Amendment Committee on the reform of security, financial, judicial, constitutional and electoral institutions.
With 12 September marking the three-year anniversary of the revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan, “certainly, the reconstitution of the national parliament presents an opportunity to infuse urgency in the implementation of the peace process,” he stressed.
A ministerial task force has presented a bill on the constitution-making process to the Minister of Justice and regional development body IGAD, he added.
The constitution making process – an important peace process benchmark – marks a critical step forward in its own right, the Mission chief said, signifying a social contract between all South Sudanese on the arrangements by which they can live together in peace and harmony.
Elections: prepare, prepare, prepare
In parallel, electoral preparations should be conducted, he said. While there is no consensus on the timelines, the two extensions to the transitional period would see elections being held in early 2023, requiring the completion of a voters’ register by late 2022. Without adequate technical and political preparations, “this event could be a catastrophe instead of a national turning point,” he said.
He pointed to the consultative process for the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing as another important development.
To be sure, the lack of progress in the transitional security arrangements is now the major challenge. He encouraged parties to agree on the unified command-and-control structures of the national security institutions without delay, citing fractures within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO), as an “unfortunate result” of the slow pace.
Avoid ‘adversarial politics’
Mr. Haysom warned that desertions of forces led by Generals Gatwech, Olony and Thomas Dhul – and the conflicts between these groups and forces loyal to Riek Machar – will undermine the peace process. The delays also have widened the imbalance between the main parties to the revitalized peace agreement. “It is imperative that the parties put aside adversarial politics to work as a unity Government.”
Record food insecurity
Reena Ghelani, Director of Operations and Advocacy Division, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA), said people in South Sudan are facing the highest levels of food insecurity recorded since independence: over 60 per cent of the population is severely food insecure.
The combined effects of conflict, climate shocks, displacement, COVID-19 and the lack of investment in infrastructure and basic services, have driven them deeper into need.
More than 8.3 million people need humanitarian assistance, including 1.4 million children, she said. Estimates in December 2020 found that 2.4 million people faced emergency levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 4 or above) between April and July 2021.
In five of these six locations, she said conflict was the major driver fuelling displacement and leading to the loss of lives, assets and livelihoods.
‘A lifeline out of starvation’
She said humanitarian agencies scaled up the multi-sectoral response in the at-risk counties, reaching over half a million people between January and June. “We have managed to give thousands a lifeline out of starvation.”
The response is part of a larger aid operation that has assisted 4.4 million people across the country between January and June with food, medical and nutritional care, water and sanitation, protection support and shelter.
Attacks along supply routes
However, she said non-State armed groups and certain youth groups continue to hamper access, looting humanitarian facilities and frequently attacking civilian and humanitarian convoys along key supply routes. The disruptions have fuelled higher prices of essential goods for an already vulnerable population.
Meanwhile, she said flooding for a third consecutive year has affected nearly 426,000 people along the Nile river, the Sudd wetland and the Sobat.
The World Food Programme (WFP) was forced to reduce food rations in all Refugee, Protection of Civilian and IDP camps from April 2021, due to inadequate funding – a move that affected 700,000 people. In October, it will be forced to stop support in IDP camps in Bor, Juba, and Wau, as resources were re-prioritized to counties where people were at the brink of famine.
Going forward, she called all actors to de-escalate the violence, stressing that humanitarians need Government support to ensure safe and unhindered access to people in need. The $1.7 billion Humanitarian Response Plan – the largest ever for South Sudan – is only 56 per cent funded and she urged donors to give at scale early in 2022, so aid efforts can get ahead of the needs.