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Humanitarian briefing paper: South Sudan

This humanitarian briefing paper looks at the causes and context of the crisis in South Sudan, the acute humanitarian need and ways to overcome the crisis in the immediate and longer term.

The conflict, which broke out on 15 December 2013, rapidly spiralled out of control and spread across the country.

Within days, thousands had been killed or wounded in the fighting and hundreds of thousands of people had been displaced. 

South Sudan now stands on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

After five months, more than 1.3 million people have been displaced and an estimated 4.9 million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. In the longer term, more than 7 million are at risk of food insecurity.

Two agreements committing to a Cessation of Hostilities have been signed but the fighting continues, amid reports of widespread violence against civilians and human rights violations.

Understanding the root causes

The humanitarian crisis is the result of violent armed conflict, underpinned by pre-existing humanitarian and development challenges within a fragile state context.

The causes of conflict are complex, and reaching a sustainable solution to the crisis may rest on untangling that complexity.

A history of political struggle, entrenched divisions, a lack of nation building and multiple development and humanitarian priorities all play a role.

Overcoming the crisis

Immediate action is needed to address this crisis:

  • Humanitarian assistance must reach those in need, and adequate funding and access must be secured to enable emergency response.

  • The Cessation of Hostilities, which was signed in January and committed to again on 9 May, must be respected by both parties to the conflict. A ceasefire agreement is only the first step in a longer-term peace process, requiring sustained commitment to addressing the deeper issues.

  • Violence against civilians must stop, and the protection of civilians must be a priority.

  • The root causes and outcomes of the conflict must be addressed through an inclusive national dialogue and reconciliation process, with the people of South Sudan actively involved.

Download the full report

South Sudan humanitarian crisis

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A group of displaced people from South Sudan

The UN is warning the current food shortages could develop into famine in the coming months.

South Sudan blog

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