Last month, the United Nations declared famine in parts of South Sudan with 100,000 people currently facing starvation and a further one million on the brink of famine. Despite such alarming reports, South Sudan’s government has put up roadblocks impeding international humanitarian aid efforts trying to reach those severely affected by the crisis. A recent report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that “Aid workers continue to face multiple obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance across South Sudan, including active hostilities, access denials, and bureaucratic impediments.”
Earlier this month, the government ordered aid workers to withdraw from Unity state's Mayendit county, an area at the heart of the famine. U.N. agencies have declared Mayendit as one of two counties in Unity State affected by localized famine. A South Sudanese military official, cited in the Sudan Tribune, said that the government only wanted to ensure the safety of aid workers as rebels groups needed to be “flushed out” of these areas. However, the U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary-General for South Sudan, David Shearer, expressed alarm at the situation and said in a statement, “South Sudan’s political leadership needs to support its own citizens, who are in desperate need across the country and cease hostilities.”
Additionally, the South Sudanese government has reportedly increased work permit fees for foreign humanitarian workers from $100 to a whopping $10,000. The government stated that the hike is aimed at increasing revenue. However, aid groups criticized the reported move and accused the government of aiming to profit from the crisis. Interaction, a coalition of 180 NGOs worldwide, said the fee increase would make it impossible for humanitarian workers to pay the exorbitant amount.
The government’s actions are contrary to its assurance last month to allow “unimpeded access” for aid organizations following the famine declaration. Current obstructions to humanitarian efforts are particularly egregious given the catastrophe facing South Sudan. At the height of the lean season in July this year, the number of food insecure people is expected to rise to a staggering 5.5 million if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the crisis.