Chairman Kerry, Ranking Member Lugar, Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I appreciate your giving me the opportunity to speak before you today on the rising humanitarian crises in Sudan and South Sudan.
Before I begin, I want to echo Ambassador Lyman's sentiments on the passing of our friend and colleague, Representative Donald Payne. Congressman Payne championed USAID's work around the world, while also challenging us to always strive to do better. As a tribute to this great leader, Administrator Shah has launched a fellowship, named in Congressman Payne's honor, that will encourage members of minority groups who have historically been underrepresented in development careers to join USAID. There have been few greater friends of USAID, and Congressman Payne's legacy of helping people around the world will continue through this fellowship.
Only eight months ago, we celebrated the peaceful separation of South Sudan from Sudan as a sign of great hope for a people who have endured war for the greater part of half a century. We also knew that despite the peaceful referendum, these two nations faced considerable challenges that would not be quickly surmounted, including severe underdevelopment in South Sudan, ranking it at the bottom of most development indices, and a series of unresolved disputes.
However, we are deeply concerned at the re-emerging conflicts in the region that are undermining hopes for a peaceful pathway for these two new nations and that are creating grave new humanitarian crises. Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei, Jonglei: each of these areas has been plunged into uncertainty and suffering for a wide range of preventable reasons and requires a wide range of assistance to meet the needs of the people who live there. Unresolved conflict in Darfur has made a permanent impact on the livelihoods of the region, and we still see over one and a half million people displaced. In South Sudan, rising intercommunal conflict, the steady and potentially increasing flow of returns, and the Government of South Sudan's recent decision to cut off oil production, effectively suspending the flow of 98 percent of state revenues, have heightened our concern for the future stability and long-term health of the world's newest nation.
The Three Areas
Amid the euphoric anticipation of independence for South Sudan, fueled by an overwhelming and peaceful referendum vote for separation in January 2011, we saw an alarming trend of troop buildups and an interruption in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) along the contested border regions known as the Three Areas. The downward trend ignited conflict just one month short of South Sudan's independence, in effect halting the critical popular consultations to resolve the political landscape of this region and triggering a fresh round of humanitarian crises.
In Southern Kordofan, a mountainous area in the southern part of Sudan along the border with South Sudan, heavy fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Sudanese People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) since June of last year has severely affected or internally displaced an estimated 300,000 people. Heavy aerial bombardment and long-range shelling have terrorized communities, ruined the last cultivation season and harvest and, in addition to cutting off livelihoods and trade, have cut off hundreds of thousands of people from access to health care and basic services.
International humanitarian access has been largely blocked since the beginning of the conflict, and the Government of Sudan continues to prevent aid from reaching Sudanese civilians in need. Reports indicate that in parts of South Kordofan, coping mechanisms are being rapidly exhausted. USAID food security experts expect that 200,000-250,000 people in Southern Kordofan may face a food emergency by the end of April if the violence and restrictions on humanitarian access continue.
Although lack of access has restricted our ability to do needs assessments and gather precise data, we estimate that since the start of the conflict approximately 300,000 people are internally displaced or severely affected in Southern Kordofan, and approximately 55,000 people have made dangerous escapes into South Sudan or have sought refuge elsewhere inside Sudan. In South Sudan, USAID and the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration are working with the United Nations (UN) World Food Program (WFP) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure that adequate assistance is available to the Southern Kordofan refugees, who are mostly congregated in Unity State, and currently number about 16,000. Concerns about the safety of refugees are growing, as cross-border aerial bombardments by the Sudan Armed Forces are not abating.
The U.S. Government's humanitarian partners continue their efforts to increase their ability to provide assistance to those in government-controlled areas of South Kordofan. We have indications that access may be gradually improving. One partner recently managed to re-open five sub-offices, out of seven planned before the conflict, and is able to support a vaccination program in government-controlled areas to improve coverage from 74 percent to 90 percent. That partner has re-opened 15 nutrition centers, trained 200 volunteers to screen children and 80 health staff to improve the capacity of the nutrition centers, and resumed training and providing supplies to village midwives. In late February, the UN World Food Program was able to provide 40 days' worth of food rations to approximately 16,700 internally displaced persons in Kadugli. The Government of Sudan has granted permission for four international staff of UN agencies to return to Kadugli, but all UN staff in Kadugli face strict restrictions on their movements and activities and are precluded from assessing needs and delivering assistance beyond the town limits.
However, for those who remain in areas controlled by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the outlook is worsening. Immediate humanitarian access to all communities affected by the conflict in Southern Kordofan is imperative to stave off emergency conditions for a quarter of a million people in the coming months.
The United States is working with international partners to press for access through an intensive diplomatic campaign that began last September. Current efforts are focused on getting a positive Government of Sudan response to the tripartite proposal of the UN, the African Union, and the League of Arab States on assessment, access and monitoring of humanitarian assistance to all civilians in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Should the Government of Sudan sign this agreement, USAID partners and the UN are ready to conduct assessments and immediately deliver food and humanitarian assistance to those in need. International staff of humanitarian organizations must be allowed to enter and operate freely in Southern Kordofan in order to save lives.
As we have said repeatedly over the past six months, the United States cannot stand by and watch such a human tragedy unfold. Our goal is to prevent this humanitarian situation from worsening any further, and we are exploring options for providing indirect support in a worst case scenario in which the Government of Sudan continues to refuse to open humanitarian access. There is no fully effective humanitarian option save for negotiated access, but again, I want to be clear that doing nothing cannot be an option.
Fighting in the Blue Nile area erupted almost three months after Southern Kordofan. It has resulted in similarly disturbing levels of displacement, with over 110,000 already in Ethiopian and South Sudanese refugee camps. Approximately 60,000 people are estimated to be severely affected or internally displaced within Blue Nile. Although USAID food security partners have postponed emergency forecasts for Blue Nile until August, that date is rapidly approaching, and we will continue to work with the international community to find the best possible options for getting aid to vulnerable people.
The rainy season, beginning in mid-May, will limit the ability of vulnerable populations to exit Blue Nile and seek protection in neighboring countries. Although a recent U.S. Government assessment mission to Upper Nile/South Sudan confirmed that there is sufficient food on hand to support the more than 80,000 refugees located there, we are fully engaged in planning to make sure that the international community can cope effectively with expanding refugee populations in the coming months.
Although key components of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) were implemented relatively smoothly in South Sudan, the Abyei protocol is dormant. The final status of Abyei -whether it belongs to Sudan or South Sudan-remains unresolved, and crisis erupted on May 20, 2011 around this issue. A military operation conducted by the Sudan Armed Forces and subsequent fighting caused 110,000 people-the majority of the Abyei Area's population-and international NGOs to move southward toward Agok and to destinations across South Sudan, yet again.
The Abyei Area had long been a site of conflict and tension and was one of the key potential flashpoint areas during the referendum period. In preparations made in advance of the South Sudan vote, USAID partners had prepositioned supplies in key hubs to enable a rapid response if needed. After the May conflict, USAID partners were able to distribute plastic sheeting, blankets, water containers, soap, and other emergency relief supplies to 68,000 people in need in a matter of weeks, while USAID's partner, the World Food Program, provided food to more than 100,000 displaced people. During the ensuing weeks, it became clear that those who had fled the fighting would not return home for several months and continued assistance would be necessary. Before Agok became inaccessible by road during the rainy season that began in mid-May, WFP-tapping into USAID-funded enhanced logistical capabilities-was able to deliver large quantities of food to Agok to provide three months of food rations for the displaced. The USAID-funded repairs to an airstrip in Warrap State also proved critical, permitting humanitarian supplies to reach a large number of displaced people throughout the rainy season.
USAID's humanitarian partners continue to adapt to evolving circumstances and are providing vital humanitarian assistance for the displaced, most of whom remain in Agok town on the border between Abyei Area and Warrap State, South Sudan. Our partners continue to run health clinics, distribute food, provide nutrition assistance, and address water and sanitation needs of the displaced population. USAID partners have recently established a new primary health care unit, constructed latrines in five schools, and provided hygiene training in three villages.
Though the situation is tenuous, the Abyei Area holds more promise for a return to stability and peace than its neighbors in conflict-ridden Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Virtually all who fled Abyei remain displaced in Agok, and they will not and cannot return until the conditions improve: better security, land mine removal, and assurances that civilians will be protected. However, the efforts of Ethiopian peacekeepers have brought Abyei much needed stability, and if current diplomatic efforts bear fruit, our partners are poised and ready to lay the groundwork for the resumption of basic services, livelihoods, conflict mitigation and community peace-building activities in Abyei.
Nine years into the Darfur conflict, we continue to see violence flare in hotspots like North Darfur and Jebel Marra. The UN reports that approximately 1.7 million people currently reside in 99 camps across Darfur -- an eight percent reduction from one year ago. Of this total, 70,000 were displaced during 2011 due to ongoing fighting.
The most vulnerable who were displaced by the conflict- including the disabled, elderly, women, and children-headed households-remain highly dependent on the basic services provided by the humanitarian community. Those living in remote, rural areas are also vulnerable to the effects of food insecurity, interrupted livelihood patterns, and limited access to basic services.
USAID continues to respond to the emergency needs of the newly displaced. Severe limitations on access, however, continue to constrain our emergency relief efforts. Our partners still face bureaucratic restrictions and other impediments to travel which, combined with insecurity, reduce their ability to carry out programs efficiently and where needed. The United States continues to advocate strongly for regular access for all humanitarian agencies throughout stable areas of Darfur.
However, while a political settlement to this crisis remains out of reach and conflict persists, there are also a growing number of people emerging from their dependence on humanitarian aid, and USAID programs are evolving to address the needs of these new populations. We are seeing more families returning seasonally to plant their fields and test their ability to return more permanently. We are seeing more permanent returns, where people are determined to move back to their homes and villages. Lastly, more large camps on the periphery of major towns are transforming into permanent peri-settlements.
The prolonged crisis has dramatically altered the traditional coping systems of Darfurians. Migrations to urban and peri-urban locations have shifted livelihood priorities, disrupted markets and impeded access to agricultural land. At the same time, these conflict-affected people have evolved their coping and livelihoods strategies in a way that has reduced their need for emergency assistance.
USAID does not actively promote the return of individuals from camps to areas of origin. Instead, we respond to the needs of individuals who have already voluntarily returned where security and access permit, and have been independently verified to have done so voluntarily. Since January 2011, the UN has verified the return of approximately 110,000 internally displaced persons and 15,000 refugees from Chad. The great majority of verified returnees have returned to West Darfur, where the security environment has markedly improved due to joint Chad-Sudan patrols along the border and the relocation of some armed movements to North and South Darfur.
All of these dynamics have shifted our assistance strategies from emergency response to integrated early recovery programs that aim to reduce dependence on humanitarian assistance and promote sustainable livelihoods and self-reliance where security permits. Today, 44 percent of USAID's funding in Darfur is dedicated to community-based early recovery programs, up from zero in 2009-a powerful illustration of how the needs have changed. USAID partners engaged in early recovery initiatives recognize the need to support livelihoods programs that are market-driven and economically feasible, conflict-sensitive, environmentally sustainable, and built on local skills and capacities. These community-based approaches strengthen local capacity and resilience to food insecurity.
Since October 2010, approximately 360,000 South Sudanese have returned from Sudan to their new country. Armed with hope and expectations for a new life in their homeland, many returnees arrived to discover limited basic services and other challenges. As the Government of Sudan's April 8, 2012, deadline for South Sudanese living in Sudan to regularize their status looms, both governments must take urgent steps to extend the deadline-which affects anywhere from 300,000 to 700,000 people-and make practical arrangements whereby those who wish to stay in Sudan can apply to do so. Absent these actions, we may witness up to hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese stranded as they try to return without resources and security. We fully support robust diplomatic efforts to press the Government of Sudan to extend this deadline and parallel efforts urging the Government of South Sudan to expedite the issuance of nationality documents to this population.
On February 12, 2012, the South Sudanese Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Sudanese Minister for Social Welfare signed a memorandum of understanding affirming the right of South Sudanese in Sudan to return to South Sudan voluntarily, safely, and with dignity. However, the memorandum makes no mention of the practical arrangements needed for Southerners to regularize their citizenship and residency status in Sudan, nor does it extend the April 8 deadline. It also excludes the use of barges, the most cost-effective means, for moving people from Sudan to South Sudan.
In South Sudan, support to returnees is complicated by a growing range of humanitarian emergencies and restricted access due to conflict, rains, and poor infrastructure. Overall the UN estimates that 2.7 million South Sudanese will be food insecure in 2012, of which approximately 1 million will be severely food insecure.
The U.S. Government is preparing contingency plans for the potential movement of up to 500,000 returnees, as well as continuing support to returnees in transit. In addition to bolstering resources at transit sites and exploring options for new locations, USAID's programs include flexible mechanisms like rapid response funds that enable a quick response to emerging emergency needs, as well as support to contingency planning efforts through prepositioning of life-saving humanitarian supplies.
Once returnees reach their final destinations, they face the challenge of reintegrating into host communities that primarily rely on agriculture to meet their basic needs. To jumpstart the returnees' new lives in South Sudan, USAID programs are improving access to basic services like clean water and health care and implementing market-driven programs to help farmers improve their agriculture practices and enhance families' food security and livelihoods opportunities.
In Unity State, which has received the highest number of returnees in South Sudan to date, USAID provided farmers with seeds and horticultural skills training to expand vegetable production and increase their income. Small business owners were provided cash grants and training to enable them to hire more staff and to access community-based credit. Enlisting the support of local government and religious authorities and soliciting input from returnees and their hosts through 18 community mobilization meetings, USAID is building upon existing agricultural potential and investing in market-driven livelihoods opportunities to promote the peaceful reintegration of approximately 4,500 returnees in Unity State.
South Sudan's Intercommunal Conflict
Unfortunately, in addition to the enormous human toll of conflict within Sudan, and across the Sudan-South Sudan border, the past few months have also seen significant loss of life and displacement from intercommunal conflict within South Sudan. Recent violence in Jonglei between the Lou Nuer, Murle, and Dinka ethnic groups has affected at least 140,000 people since late December 2011. These and other clashes are a product of unresolved inter-ethnic and inter-tribal issues that were sidelined to meet the common goal of South Sudan's independence-and highlight the fragility and fledgling nature of the new state, and the need for deeper engagement that mitigate instability and promote accountability.
We are troubled by the lack of budgetary and political support by the Government of South Sudan to state and local authorities on the front lines of responding to the conflict. USAID has been providing local and state authorities the equipment they need to communicate quickly and effectively with each other in remote areas, as well as building or rehabilitating county and other local administrative headquarters buildings, which provides an administrative base and meeting space to address community violence. For instance, high-frequency radios and other equipment USAID provided to local and state authorities have, in some cases, prevented violence when authorities were able to warn communities about planned revenge attacks. We are also working to engage at-risk youth in productive, income-generating activities.
Unfortunately, significant, persistent violence continues to cost lives. There is strong evidence that some political leaders have been complicit in organizing, enabling, and coordinating the violence. There are also reliable reports of security services joining raiding parties, providing ammunition, and looting. The government forces deployed to conflict areas to mitigate the conflict lack resources and capacity. These trends highlight larger issues of political will and government capacity to genuinely address these inter-tribal and intercommunal tensions. The Government of South Sudan must own and drive a peace process and reconciliation initiative in Jonglei and other conflict regions that will be anchored around direct engagement with the core conflict catalysts in order to have greater effect.
To respond to urgent humanitarian needs in Jonglei State, USAID water, sanitation, and hygiene activities have benefitted 31,500 people affected by the fighting, which damaged water points and forced displaced and host populations to share limited water resources. In addition to rapid response actions, USAID supports multi-sectoral humanitarian programs in areas affected by recent fighting. For example, one grantee is repairing the semi-urban water system in Pibor town and installing five boreholes in Pibor County, while others are implementing health and nutrition initiatives in Akobo and Duk counties.
We will continue to respond to humanitarian needs across South Sudan, whether as a result of inter-ethnic conflict, militia violence, large-scale returns, or other urgent humanitarian needs, through our ongoing programs and flexible funding mechanisms. However, resolving these issues and conflicts in the long term requires recognition that this will be a lengthy process requiring sustained engagement involving political will from the Government of South Sudan, commitment from the international community, and donor support. Without a pledge from the Government of South Sudan to address security, corruption, and governance issues facing South Sudan, donor interventions will not be sufficient to achieve stability.
South Sudan's Revenue Shortfall and Austerity Budget
The Government of South Sudan's decision in January to halt oil production-the source of 98 percent of government revenues-has triggered the implementation of an austerity budget that falls short of addressing the overwhelming cut in revenues. It is not clear that the potential impact of this decision on citizen services and other government functions, livelihoods, food security, and the new nation's currency has been sufficiently recognized and communicated to the public. However, in the absence of alternative sources of funding or resumption of oil production, it is very clear that it will soon be impossible for the government to pay for its current operations-including salaries for public employees, the military, and police; longer-term capital investment; and block grants to South Sudan's 10 states.
Under this austerity scenario, the Government of South Sudan must prioritize where its limited government revenues will be allocated, while donors, including the U.S. Government, assess how it will impact development programs over the short- and longer-term horizons. Any progress expected from a productive partnership for development will become much more difficult if the Government of South Sudan and the United States and larger donor community are forced to shift back into crisis mode. A greater emphasis on basic service delivery would come at the cost of the longer-term institution building that the U.S. Government and others has supported in South Sudan since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We are extremely concerned that this enormous fiscal gap and potential shift in donor resources to cover the humanitarian challenges resulting from it, could result in backsliding on the institutional and state-building progress we have made over the past six years, exacerbating this new democracy's fragility.
Coming so soon after the hope engendered by peaceful celebration of South Sudan's independence, this confluence of crises is alarming. But we must remember that the remnants of a half century of conflict can continue to reverberate, even after a sturdy peace agreement has been established. The international community must act to ensure that these discrete conflicts do not spiral into a greater confrontation and that we do what we can to support the needs of the people affected by crisis. With so much invested in the future of these two nations, the United States, standing with many of our international partners, must speak out when actions either do not support or outright threaten the vision of peaceful co-existence and the economic opportunity that so many have sacrificed to bring this far.
- Testimony of Deputy Assistant Administrator Bob Leavitt Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance United States Agency for International Development House Committee on Foreign Affairs
- Testimony of Deputy Assistant Administrator Bob Leavitt before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
- Testimony of Acting Assistant Administrator Thomas H. Staal before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
Last updated: April 29, 2016