World & Nation

U.N. faces humanitarian disaster in South Sudan

Toby Lanzer
Toby Lanzer, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, speaks at a news conference in Juba, the capital.
(Ali Ngethi / AFP/Getty Images)

JUBA, South Sudan -- Toddlers tottering in the dust, elderly men sitting in the shade to escape the sapping heat, clustering flies, the drifting smoke of cooking fires and the sour smell of too many people crowded into a small space. If things are bad now at the displaced-persons camp near the main U.N. peacekeeping base in Juba, South Sudan, they’ll soon be much worse.

The rains are coming within months. They’ll bring malaria, mud, perhaps cholera, and make life in these camps even more miserable.

Toby Lanzer, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, launched an appeal Tuesday in the capital, Juba, for $1.27 billion by June. He catalogued the need: 3 million people facing acute or severe hunger after ethnic fighting caused 865,000 to flee their homes, while about 60% of the population faces the risk of hunger.

But when Lanzer hits the phones and flies in to talk to leaders in donor capitals, knocking on doors, pleading for funds, he will face some tough competition. The South Sudan appeal comes a day after the U.N. launched a $2-billion campaign for the famine-threatened Sahel region, where 2.5 million people need emergency lifesaving food assistance.


And that’s in addition to Syria and the Central African Republic, where two other grim humanitarian catastrophes are unfolding relentlessly.

When he stumps for aid, Lanzer will be carrying the stories of people with him, such as the old man he met who’d walked over 120 miles south from Jonglei state to Juba to flee the violence.

“Elderly. Poor. Frail. And very tired,” Lanzer described him. “He said he just could not walk any further. There are countless stories like this.”

The U.N. peacekeeping force, whose job is protect civilians, is hosting 27,000 people in the main U.N. compound.


The U.N. humanitarian appeal comes after South Sudan President Salva Kiir accused U.N. peacekeepers of trying to run a “parallel government” and one of his ministers said South Sudan was “at war” with the United Nations. The government has since softened its rhetoric.

But representatives of humanitarian agencies, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions to their organizations, said the South Sudan government had expressed dissatisfaction with their policies of neutrality and the necessity to deal with both government and rebels on a daily basis in order to secure access to all areas.

The appeal also follows the looting of 4,700 tons of World Food Program aid from warehouses across the country, by both sides and civilians, according to U.N. officials.

Twitter: @latimesdixon