An upsurge in insecurity, attacks on aid workers and convoys in war-torn South Sudan could increase risks of famine where some 100,000 people are already starving and another 1 million on the brink of starvation, experts have said.

South SudanJames Okuk, Lecturer of Political Science at the University of Juba, said the recent killing of six aid workers in eastern South Sudan, coupled with increased attacks on relief convoys would impede delivery of much-needed aid to famine strike communities. “Killing of aid workers will scare humanitarian organizations to deliver relief aid. And if they don’t deliver, we will have a lot of threats like hunger and spread of diseases because the country currently relies on aid,” Okuk told Xinhua on Tuesday. He said humanitarian agencies play a vital role in feeding huge number of South Sudan’s population mainly comprised of malnourished children. The lecturer added that any move to scare away humanitarian agencies from South Sudan may result in more children dying, spiraling of violence and mass displacement of people into neighboring countries. “The current trend means frustration and hopelessness for the South Sudanese citizens because the only hope they have now is for them to get assistance from humanitarian organizations,” Okuk said. “When they get hopeless or frustrated, we never know what they will decide to do. Some will decide to leave the country into neighboring countries where there is a sense of sanity and some of them might opt to pick arms. All these are not good for the country at all,” he added.

James Alic Garang, Senior Economist at Juba-based Ebony Center for Strategic Studies and Assistant Professor of Economics at Upper Nile University said continued killing of aid workers sends a negative signal that the armed actors and some communities don’t understand roles of humanitarian agencies. Garang said such behavior if not contained would led to some areas being cut off from receiving relief aid, which will have devastating impact on needy people. “For one to kill aid workers is a disturbance to our country and it also sends a shock or a chilling psychology to the minds of the humanitarian community. So this would have a negative impact on aid distribution or access to aid and overall equity of the nation,” Garang said. “My appeal is that all parties must exert maximum effort to end the war and that is the only way out to stop the humanitarian crisis and attacks on aid workers,” he added.

South Sudan has been embroiled in more than three years of conflict that has taken a devastating toll on the people of South Sudan. The UN estimates that 1.5 million people have been forced into neighboring countries and another 7.5 million people across the country are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, and a localized famine declared in February in parts of northern unity state. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said last week in its monthly bulletin that aid agencies were forced to temporarily suspend operations in the famine-hit northern county of Mayendit over episodes of violence against aid convoys, workers and looting of humanitarian supplies across the country. Gunmen ambushed and killed six aid workers on a road linking Juba to Pibor in Boma State last month.

According to the UN, South Sudan has become a hostile environment for aid workers to operate with at least 79 aid workers killed since the civil war began in 2013. It added that some 12 aid workers have been killed and eight humanitarian convoys attacked this year alone. Under International Humanitarian Law, intentional attacks against humanitarian relief personnel may constitute war crimes. Pius Ojara, Director of NGO Forum, a network of non-governmental Organizations operating in South Sudan said the latest killing of six aid workers has caused panic among relief agencies, calling on authorities to scale up protection for humanitarian personnel, their property and premises. “The killing of the aid workers has created a sense of fear and sense of apprehension around the safety and risks of humanitarian workers lives here,” Ojara said. “We believe that whatever the humanitarian needs are, we should be able to respond to save lives. So that is what keeps us here in South Sudan. So protecting and ensuring safety of aid workers will help us to respond to the needs of the population more effectively because we will save lives that way,” he added.

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh