Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the current humanitarian crisis in South Sudan and to support the delivery of a lasting peace settlement and longer term economic and social development.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my appreciation for the opportunity to debate this important topic, coming hot on the heels of the debate on Sudan last week. However, although with a shared history, South Sudan is a separate country with different challenges and a different culture.
I begin by declaring my interests. I am a trustee of Anglican International Development, a charity working to relieve poverty through healthcare training, sanitation provision, agricultural training, microfinance and support for local churches to bring about long-term sustainable development in South Sudan, as well as other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Since my first visit to South Sudan in 2009, before it even became a country, I have observed its journey to independence and subsequent efforts to establish itself as a nation. A nation historically blighted by a civil war that claimed the lives of millions is now descending into near anarchy, which is taking the lives of thousands and damaging millions more. It is impossible to look at this situation and to hear some of the individual stories, as well as the impact on the whole nation, without a sense of huge disappointment.
South Sudan became an independent nation in July 2011, following a long struggle for independence. That day was hailed as victorious, with President Obama saying:
“Today is a reminder that after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible”.
If only those words had borne true. Within two years, civil war was brewing. War broke out, as we know, in December 2013, as relationships between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar completely imploded. Estimates vary, but a conservative estimate holds the death toll to be upwards of 50,000 people, with some suggestions that 300,000 may have died since then.
Numerous peace agreements have been signed—a total of 10—including one signed earlier this week in Khartoum, between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, facilitated, bizarrely, by President Bashir of Sudan, their long-term enemy. However, every single time the ceasefire has broken down and, if anything, violence has intensified afterwards. Within hours of its signature this week, the ceasefire had been violated and fighting resumed. This latest agreement committed to a 36-month ceasefire, paving the way for humanitarian aid to reach the country, prisoners to be freed and a transitional unity Government to be formed. While this is a positive step and I want to be optimistic, if past experience is anything to go by, the likelihood of success is very low.
These agreements have a history of promising much but delivering little, as they rely on the good will of both parties without the strategy and accountability required to sustain them. This is a power struggle between warmongers with big egos, who are prepared to sacrifice vast numbers of their own people to try to gain control. So far, neither side has demonstrated it is willing to do what it takes to bring lasting peace. This is exacerbated by the splintering of rebel groups and the ethnic under- tones, which add layers of complexity to the conflict. The cynicism with which these agreements are now greeted is due to the three actors, Bashir, Kiir and Machar, not being trusted, and their history of corruption and of pursuing negotiations for personal gain.
It would be difficult to overstate the scale of the tragedy that this protracted conflict and the dysfunctional political situation has brought upon the country. At least 2.4 million of its citizens are refugees, with another 2 million internally displaced. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees predicts continuing deterioration over the coming months. Limited infrastructure and security challenges also contribute to what is one of the worst humanitarian crises we have seen in recent years and now one of most serious in the world.
There is a particular threat to women and children: 85% of those displaced fall into this category and they are particularly vulnerable. There are frequent reports of soldiers and rebel fighters carrying out horrific acts of sexual violence and rape which, on top of a lack of access to clean water, basic healthcare and education, paints a dire picture. It is estimated that 1.8 million children aged between three and 18 have lost out on education as a result of the ongoing conflict.
On almost every global indicator, South Sudan is at or near the bottom of the league, whether women dying in childbirth, deaths of children under five, life expectancy, poverty levels, et cetera. The only contrast is the level of inflation, where South Sudan has topped the league. Almost uniquely, the country remains year after year in a constant state of crisis.
What about the current situation and the prospect of stability? Many aid organisations have invested in South Sudan since independence, wishing to support this young country; they have willed it to succeed. The African Union has hosted numerous negotiations, while the United Nations has tried time and time again to persuade the power-crazed leaders to see sense—so much so that the hotels in Addis Ababa must now have dedicated rooms for the negotiation process. I compliment our own Government on their ongoing commitment to South Sudan. Along with the US, the EU and other European countries, we have continued to provide aid and have supported the UN peacekeeping effort by having nearly 400 troops in the country. We have maintained an embassy presence, even when our own compound has been attacked by rebel groups. Moreover, without the World Food Programme, many more would have died.
It is easy to become despondent about the wasted effort, to be disillusioned by the lack of success, or to walk away because of the risks to life and the real dangers that exist. Many organisations have understandably abandoned South Sudan as being too risky, and tragically, over the past year some 30 aid workers have lost their lives.
Within AID, we have approached many potential donors who regard investing in South Sudan as a complete waste of resources in the current unstable climate and when the Government remain so dysfunctional and, arguably, many millions of dollars may as well have been poured down the drain. It is even more tragic that a country with oil reserves, minerals and some of the most fertile land in Africa has made no progress towards financial sustainability, with its precious oil revenue being spent on guns and fuelling internal conflict. The country is broke, with high levels of debt. It has been estimated that, since 2005, South Sudan has generated $30 billion-worth of oil revenue and has not built a single road, school or hospital. It continues to depend on international aid and finance for humanitarian relief and investment.
What can be done? There have been calls for an aid embargo and economic sanctions to be applied to try and bring the warring factions to heel. The reality, in my view, is that these unscrupulous leaders will not be swayed by economic sanctions. The impact of such measures will fall even more heavily on the poor people who are suffering now. However, as has often been said, doing nothing is not an option. We in the UK have a long historical relationship with Sudan, now South Sudan, and an ongoing responsibility. The world cannot stand at the side of the road and just be observers of this continuing and growing crisis. Incidentally, there were South Sudanese people on the boat that Italy refused to allow to dock last week.
We need to intensify our efforts even more and enforce a ceasefire if we can. While I have said that sanctions would have a limited impact, a global arms embargo is a no-brainer. This should be of the highest priority. The supply of weapons of war needs to be cut off. The surrounding countries in Africa must do even more to exert their combined pressure on the leaders of South Sudan to conform to a ceasefire and hold them to account. We need to use whatever influence we have through the Commonwealth as well as the UN and the African Union, but I do not think for one minute that this will be an easy task. Internally, I believe that the South Sudan Council of Churches could play an even greater role as peacemakers across the tribal divides. The new primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, the most reverend Justin Badi Arama, could be a key figure.
Looking further ahead to beyond the current humanitarian crisis, South Sudan desperately needs investment in infrastructure, roads and connectivity and in its people. There are resilient communities in which the people are trying to help themselves. There are great examples that could serve as case studies in how to survive in the midst of complete turmoil. The church has a key role to play in economic development and is one of the very few routes available to connect with local communities.
There are two other issues I want to address, and I shall be brief. First, I have received a consistent message from my contacts in South Sudan in advance of this debate that the country must be weaned off dependence on foreign aid, except in exceptional circumstances. This will clearly require the wisdom of Solomon, but a strategic plan needs to be in place, linked to investment and to a gradual reduction of aid.
Secondly, I have long been convinced, as the Minister is aware, that we need to invest in the next generation of young leaders in South Sudan. Whatever success or otherwise we achieve in influencing the current leadership, they are completely discredited, dysfunctional and incapable of gaining the confidence of their own nation, let alone the international community. There is an opportunity now to invest in an intelligent grouping of young leaders who exist across tribal divides and are even more frustrated and embarrassed at the image and state of their own country than we are. Training, good governance and moral leadership for the next generation are again, in my view, of the highest priority. I hope the Minister will respond.
I shall finish with a quote from a dear Christian lady called Eunice, whom I met in Juba on one of my visits. She spent much of her life empowering women and working for peace. She said as I left, “You will come back, won’t you? So many people never come back!”. Those words still ring in my ears. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Curry, on securing a very timely debate. Last Wednesday, as he described, yet another ceasefire agreement was declared in a country that has suffered five years of conflict, devastating the lives of ordinary people. The country is poverty-stricken, despite having vast oil reserves.
The words of South Sudanese Member of Parliament Martha Martin Dar are much in my thoughts. She and I were delegates at the Women Political Leaders Summit in Lithuania last month. Martha described the war as a man-made political battle for power and wealth—a war that uses sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon. She is exasperated by those who sell arms to both sides and prolong the ability of the Government and so many groups to terrorise the civilian population. She hopes that the international community will continue to work with South Sudan to build a safer country and so do I. I hope that the UK will continue its policy of commitment to the peace process, defence of civilians and humanitarian aid. I shall focus briefly on those three issues.
The troika statement last week commended IGAD’s efforts to drive forward the peace process and took note of the Khartoum declaration between President Kiir, Dr Machar and other opposition parties. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, said, we have seen this all before. Ceasefires have foundered because of ill will on both sides. It seemed at times that the ceasefires had been announced only to coincide with the start of the rainy season, when warfare becomes impossible in any event. That happened when I was in South Sudan last May. Part III of the UN Secretary-General’s report published just last week makes for chilling reading about the increased intensity of the conflict this year ahead of the arrival of the rainy season in the regions of Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria. Is the Minister confident that this ceasefire will be meaningful? The troika stated last week that,
“all sides must stop fighting now”,
but, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, said, they have broken the ceasefire already. What happens next?
While I was in South Sudan, I discussed the peace process with President Mogae, chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission of the peace agreement. He explained that work was being undertaken to introduce some rigour into the government treasury in South Sudan. At that stage, it seemed that those at the top of the Government used it as their own personal bank account. Can my noble friend the Minister say whether any progress has been made on that? I am concerned by the UN Secretary-General’s recent report, which says:
“Despite buoyant international oil prices, overall fiscal performance did not improve, raising concerns about the management of the additional oil revenue”.
I am not suggesting that we should give up the search for peace, but I wonder what else can be done to produce results. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Curry, said about his scepticism about the use of sanctions, but I saw the look in the eyes of somebody under UK sanctions when I was in a meeting with him when I was the sanctions Minister. I think they meant something to him. I am glad that I was not left in the room alone with him, I can tell you. Can the Minister tell us what the Government’s current assessment is of the sanctions regime and about recent discussions on extending sanctions on targeted individuals?
The troika also stated last week that the ceasefire must allow the return of South Sudan’s refugees and displaced people and must lead to improved security for communities and an end to the horrendous abuses endured by civilians at the hands of the security forces of both sides, who have razed villages to the ground and committed the widespread rape of men, women and children—including babies. What do we plan to do to encourage the combatants to comply, despite the fighting of this week? What are our plans for our own protection of civilians and how do we intend to move forward with that?
Last year, I flew north to Malakal in Unity state and visited the UNMISS protection of civilians camp, where 35,000 people have taken refuge after fleeing from what used to be the second city of South Sudan. I met UK troops there who had recently joined the UNMISS contingent and whose professionalism had already won respect. I was therefore delighted to hear last week that they had been presented with UN medals of honour for their commitment and service to the people of South Sudan. We can indeed be proud of them.
Turning to the question of humanitarian aid, there is clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has said, a great need across the country for such aid. Tens of thousands have been killed and 4.2 million people—a third of the population—have been forced to flee their homes. At the moment, aid organisations forecast that, this year, 1.1 million children under the age of five will suffer from malnourishment, with nearly 300,000 suffering severe malnutrition, probably resulting in death. Is the UK still the second-largest contributor to the humanitarian response? What is the Government’s assessment of the current position across South Sudan on, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, mentioned, the matters of health, food and education? What is the current position regarding our own DfID-funded projects?
I wish every success and safety to Becks Buckingham, the DfID country director, and all those working at our embassy—I salute them. South Sudan remains one of the most dangerous operating environments in the world for humanitarian workers and for those who try to protect them. The troika stated last week that the ceasefire must allow the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance. What response has there been to that from the South Sudanese Government?
Overall, the resilience of the people there is astonishing. Despite the terrible hardships that they face, they continue to live with dignity and hope, but they need peace. Even my general disposition towards optimism was tested to the very limit by what I saw there. The recent ceasefire is still welcome, even if there have been problems this week, but the UK and the international community must make it crystal clear that we expect the combatants to do much more to ensure that the peace process is both inclusive and sincere. There really is no excuse for inaction.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Curry, who is a fellow member of our APPG on Sudan and South Sudan and has had a particular interest in this area for some years. My own background is that I worked with Save the Children in 1989-90—it has very kindly assisted me with this debate today. I also live in the Salisbury diocese, which is active on South Sudan’s behalf.
I have followed the fortunes of South Sudan since I first visited Bentiu and Malakal on behalf of Christian Aid back in the 1970s. Even then, after the 1974 Addis Ababa agreement, the south was a region afflicted by sporadic violence. It is hard to see how this resilient nation has endured these conditions for so long, despite successive peace agreements and the exciting referendum result that led to independence. As we have heard, since 2013, South Sudan has been gripped by emergencies and continued insecurity. Riek Machar once had close ties with this country and I would expect the FCO to have his mobile number even today. Endless talks in Addis Ababa, limited success for IGAD’s high-level revitalisation forum, continued activity by the SSCC—and a lot of other acronyms—have characterised the cessation of hostilities. On the positive side, I hear from Tearfund that the participation of women and young people has recently been more evident in the negotiations. The Sudan unit in the FCO has worked hard on the peace process, and I look forward to the Minister’s latest analysis.
I know from my own visits that, as the noble Baroness has just said, South Sudan is a dangerous place to work. According to Save the Children it is one of the deadliest places in the world, with tens of thousands of civilians killed and nearly 100 aid workers losing their lives since 2013. Aid workers were frequently targeted in the months during or following those events, and even the displaced under the protection of the UN were subject to violence and rape. A civil society statement to the African Union explicitly condemns the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and the use of child soldiers and calls for an independent investigation into allegations of the use of sexual violence. The UN’s own human rights report on South Sudan in February stated:
“Conflict-related sexual violence is endemic. Rape, mutilations of sexual organs and other forms of sexual violence, targeting girls, boys, women and men, are often committed in front of children, humiliating the victims, their families and their communities and destroying the social fabric. That leaves behind a traumatized people and sows the seeds of yet more violence”.
Did our Government support calls for action on these horrendous crimes such as a special court or a TRC? If not, we can only express our horror and consternation, as my noble friend described.
Over 4 million people, roughly one-third of the population, have been forced from their homes, making South Sudan the third-largest refugee-producing nation globally behind Syria and Afghanistan. According to Save the Children, famine has now been declared and famine levels of food insecurity persist in many parts of the country. Basic infrastructure is lacking or has been destroyed, with only 400 fully operational health facilities left nationwide. Many areas are now severely restricted, even the once peaceful Equatoria, where the more recent fighting has taken place.
As one of the largest operational NGOs in South Sudan, Save the Children is prioritising access to basic services and protection for South Sudanese children. I saw some of its work during our APPG visit just before independence. They have been involved in health and education at a high level, alongside government and the UN agencies. It is common knowledge that a lot of money from the World Bank designated for the health sector virtually disappeared a few years ago, and all donor Governments were wary of investing in the Salva Kiir administration even before the present conflict. Oil revenue has doubtless ensured the payment of soldiers before teachers and nurses, although no figures since 2016 are likely to be available.
For now, though, the humanitarian emergency has the highest priority. The aid agencies have particular concerns. I quote from an appeal from Save the Children:
“We call on all parties to allow full humanitarian access, to respect international law and end the war on children whose rights are continually violated in South Sudan. While conflict persists, we must see an end to the targeting of schools, hospitals, and humanitarian actors, as well as an increase in funding to agencies and INGO’s whose operations are being crippled by a lack of resources”.
I have more statistics to offer—some have already been mentioned and I will select only a few. Out of the 4 million displaced, 85% are women and children. One million live on the brink of famine. Last year 1.75 million children under five and breastfeeding mothers were acutely malnourished. There were more than 50 deliberate attacks on schools and hospitals in the two years up to last December. Nearly 2 million children are out of school, with almost 10% of schools destroyed, damaged or closed. For aid agencies there is one especially unusual and alarming statistic: South Sudan has the highest number of verified cases of denial of humanitarian access globally, with 44% of incidents internationally occurring there.
So of course my question for the Minister has to be: what are our Government doing to ensure that humanitarian access is improved, what are the constraints and how can the international community work together more effectively to remove them? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Curry, on securing this debate on the crisis in South Sudan. I also congratulate the noble Earl on his contribution and the breadth of knowledge with which he has informed this debate—that goes for the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, as well.
I had the opportunity to visit the southern part of Sudan shortly before independence was declared in Juba in July 2011. The parliamentary delegation of which I was a part visited Juba and Khartoum, meeting the soon-to-be President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and his staff, and members of President Bashir’s Cabinet in Khartoum.
Noble Lords will recall that, at that time, just prior to the referendum on South Sudan’s independence, there was a massive relocation of population from north to south. Sudanese families were uprooted from the urban environment around Khartoum and transported to the mostly rural areas in the south. Flotillas of Nile barges were deployed to ship these new refugees down to Juba, with around 1,000 people on each barge. It was a moving experience to hear so many people singing together, announcing their impending arrival before each barge came into view, unaware of what awaited them.
Juba then was, and by all accounts still is, a bankrupt and broken city. It had no formal commercial trading base. There are no banks—just a simple cash economy. Our delegation’s organiser had to carry around a cash float sufficient to meet all our travel and accommodation costs in a Tesco plastic bag—I do not know how many thousands of dollars she carried; I did not like to ask—until we found a secure cupboard which relieved the responsibility, courtesy of the UK mission.
The urbanised refugee families from the north were confronted with the prospect of becoming tenant smallholder farmers. They were provided with hand implements, allocated a patch of land and invited to get on with it. The plight of children orphaned by the upheaval was dreadful.
Our delegation was taken to a temporary childcare centre, funded and run by volunteers. They cared for the children they found abandoned in the Juba city markets. With there not being enough money to provide accommodation, the children had to be returned to the market each night and take their chances sleeping under the stalls. By the time the girls were 11, they were coerced into prostitution in the market brothels. Before the boys reached 11, they had generally disappeared.
As if this was not enough for an impoverished, destitute population to cope with, in a country with barely any infrastructure, no civil administration and no formal governance, in 2013—as noble Lords have mentioned—it was plunged into civil war. It was a vicious civil war initiated by leaders with no concern for the fate of the people whom they professed to lead.
Just this week, yet another peace agreement was signed. South Sudan’s UN ambassador, Akuei Bona Malwal, said that the declaration included other warring parties and that they had all pledged to work together to bring peace to the country. I must thank his excellency the ambassador for South Sudan, who sent me a copy of the agreement via the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, which is encouraging. Unfortunately, during the photocopying process, I believe that they have managed to miss out one of the pages which is probably the most important. There we are: it is in my hand; we have the agreement.
Security Council members have welcomed this sign of progress after more than four years of a bloody conflict that has seen thousands killed and more than 4 million displaced from their homes or made refugees. The fighting has caused a humanitarian catastrophe, with more than 7 million South Sudanese requiring humanitarian assistance this year.
The radio station Voice of America, in Washington, reported that Security Council member, Equatorial Guinea’s UN ambassador, Job Obiang Esono Mbengono, had said that the peace declaration was a step on the right path but they were cautious when it came to optimism, since it was not the first time that the parties had reached agreements and not respected them.
The Ethiopian envoy Tekeda Alemu said that the coming days will be critical and that what matters now is for the parties to honour their commitment and implement the ceasefire, but what are the prospects of it lasting? We have already heard this afternoon that the ceasefire has been broken. One far-sighted commentator said that this civil war will last until both sides come to the conclusion that neither side can win.
In the meantime, the people of South Sudan continue to suffer. In the meantime, 7.5 million people need humanitarian assistance, 6 million people—half the population—are severely food-insecure, 1.8 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, making Bidi in Uganda the world’s largest refugee camp, and there are at least 4.2 million IDPs. There are outbreaks of cholera, kala-azar and measles, and during six months of 2016 there were 2 million cases of malaria alone. Three-quarters of school-aged girls are not in school, an adolescent girl is three times more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary school, and one in five girls among displaced communities has experienced rape or sexual assault since the conflict started.
Despite the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement, conflict has intensified in parts of Unity and Central Equatoria states. Government forces are seeking to dislodge opposition forces ahead of the rainy season. On 31 May, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2418, renewing the sanctions regime until 15 July, by which time the fighting should have stopped and the parties should have come to a viable agreement. If they have not, the Security Council will consider applying targeted sanctions to six identifiable individuals. Nevertheless, will the Government’s approach to conflict resolution focus not solely on the high-level peace process but look at the root causes? Will the Government strongly and publicly support humanitarian responses to refugees in Sudan and neighbouring countries? Will they acknowledge that more should be done to ensure that South Sudan leaders holding British citizenship are held accountable in an investigation into arms deals between a UK company and South Sudan? Will they support Uganda in providing a safe haven for Sudanese refugees, given that only 21% of the UNHCR’s call for some $674 million in 2017 has been funded?
My Lords, there was a flicker of hope on 20 June when President Salva Kiir and the rebel leader Riek Machar met in Addis Ababa and agreed a ceasefire from last Saturday but, as we have heard, it was quickly extinguished when fighting broke out between the two warring factions on Monday with 18 civilians reported dead and 44 injured. As usual, it was civilians who suffered. Observers of what has been happening in South Sudan since the outbreak of fighting were not at all surprised.
The suffering in South Sudan is appalling and the need for continuing humanitarian aid is urgent. I shall not repeat the figures we have heard. We are all aware of the awful situation. Everyone is agreed that the political priority must continue to be establishing a stable and lasting peace so, when the key actors appear so reluctant to make this happen, the international community must continue to persevere through all setbacks, whatever the temptation to despair—and there is a big temptation. There will be lots more setbacks, but we must persevere.
Continuing pressure must be put on Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to control the forces under their command and reach a lasting long-term agreement. To this end President Kiir’s proposal to extend his term of office for a further three years is totally acceptable, and his proposal for elections soon is no better when so many members of the population are displaced from their homes. A proper system needs to be in place to record incidents where the ceasefire has broken down or where human rights abuses have taken place. Gender-based violence, looting, the burning of villages, torture and the use of food as a weapon of war have all been reported and amount, in some cases, to allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It must be clearly stated that, however long it takes, perpetrators will be brought to justice. Meanwhile targeted sanctions against key players known to have offended need to be in place and the process of setting up a hybrid court in South Sudan needs speeding up.
These things cannot just be accepted with a shrug of the shoulders as an inevitable accompaniment of civil war. They take place with depressing frequency but remain a breach of the moral and legal order which the international community, through the UN, has a duty to uphold. As the Human Rights Watch interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan put it:
“We urge the Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and ensure it has sufficient resources to continue its indispensable work to collect and preserve evidence of serious violations of human rights and identify those who may be responsible”.
Unfortunately, to date, little progress has been made on establishing the South Sudan hybrid court, which is provided for under the August 2015 agreement. The commission called for establishment of the hybrid court to be expedited. The African Union commission should move forward in establishing the court without the South Sudanese Government, which is permitted under the peace agreement. If progress is not made, the International Criminal Court remains the global court of last resort and the necessary steps to grant it jurisdiction over the conflict should be pursued. As Ambassador Joanna Wronecka, chair of the UN South Sudan sanctions committee, said:
“There must be a tangible cost for the continuation of violence”.
Whatever can and must be done in relation to Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, there is a groundswell of feeling that the only real hope for the long term is to bring more women and more younger people into the process. It has been well argued that buying off elites to stop the fighting has not worked, and is not working. This is a process in which military commanders are offered promotion or posts in the Government for laying down their arms, which they do only for a short period. Perhaps some of this is necessary as a short-term expedient but it cannot get to the roots of the problems in South Sudan.
The majority of the population of South Sudan are young—51% are under 18—and their future is at stake. The older generation has let them down badly. There is a tiny glimmer of hope in that at least one young person was brought in by each team in the recent high-level revitalisation forum talks, and women have started to make their voices heard in discussions. But women need to be much more prominent at all levels. They are a real key to the future. More widely, civil society—not least the churches—has a key role in building the institutions of the future, without which there can be no stable political order. One of the implications is that more resources need to go into building peace at local levels, using civil society rather than warlords. The international community—in particular the key African states—needs to insist on this as a precondition of continuing support.
The humanitarian situation is appalling, as we have heard a number of times during the debate. Particularly upsetting is the way that access to aid is being blocked in so many areas; it is also being blocked by bureaucracy. Aid agencies report that their workers there are having to pay taxes locally, including on their cars, and that it is very difficult to get licences to operate their cars.
It is important to note that, while a few aid workers in some parts of the world have besmirched their agencies by their behaviour, aid workers, not least in South Sudan, are often in an exposed and vulnerable situation with their lives at risk. More than 100 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan in recent years. The international community needs to insist on the removal of all these hindrances, physical and bureaucratic, to aid actually getting through.
Finally, to further these key objectives, it is vital to have adequate peacekeeping and monitoring forces on the ground—to deter warring parties from fresh outbreaks, to record violations of the ceasefire, and to record human rights violations. The African Union, under the UN, is the body responsible for having forces in South Sudan to help with the task. In the past there seems to have been prevarication and delay. Is the Minister able to say which forces, from which countries, in what numbers, are now in position in South Sudan and what reports have been received on how effective they are being?
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Curry, for bringing forward this debate, I apologise to your Lordships for scurrying in slightly late at the beginning, having been taken short, as it were, by the rapidity of the previous business.
A year or more ago, I was passing through Nairobi airport, dressed not quite like this but recognisably as a bishop. A gentleman also clad in a purple shirt was approaching down a corridor. Both of us having time to spare before our flights, we fell into conversation. My new friend was a bishop from South Sudan and was on his way home after a meeting of Church leaders from across Africa—from places of conflict and from places that were recipients of refugees from those conflict areas. Our conversation was one that will stick in my mind for the rest of my life, I suspect, as he shared with me the reality of existence in his diocese. He and his colleagues had been discussing the Church’s role in peacemaking and reconciliation in those settings.
As has already been generously acknowledged by many, the churches have a particular role in South Sudan, as in other places. I fully understand the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, about the most recent Khartoum declaration and the prospects thereof, but I guess that if we on these Benches are paid to do anything, we are paid to be people of hope. Therefore, I dare to pray with others for a lasting peace and for humanitarian development and economic and social development, for which a lasting peace is the necessary precursor.
The noble Earl referred to the connection of the diocese of Salisbury with South Sudan, and my right reverend friend the Bishop of Salisbury would be pleased to have that acknowledged in this debate. These long-standing connections between English dioceses and parts of the Church overseas are important factors in enabling the relationships to continue. They often work at a very local level and should be encouraged and fostered.
As it happens, a young woman from my own diocese is currently in South Sudan as a development worker with Tearfund, which has already been referred to. As I think is quite well known, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has personally been significantly engaged in issues in South Sudan, having recently visited South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. I am not someone who is easily moved to tears but I came very close to it when the archbishop spoke following the visit that he made to South Sudan in 2014, when he went into the heart of the conflict zone and visited the town of Bor. He spoke of the horrendous body count that he witnessed there. He stood at the mouth of what was in effect a mass grave and was asked by the local people to pray. Again, the sharing of that experience is something that will stay with me for the rest of my days.
The role of the United Nations has already been acknowledged in this debate. It recognises that in South Sudan the Churches and other faith-based organisations have the greatest reach and credibility among the people of any organisation. That is of course partly because the Church is already there—in the form of her people in every community, every village, every town and every place. Because the Church takes the form of those local people and local communities, it, of any organisation, cannot abandon South Sudan and its people because it is South Sudan and its people in so many respects. Its leaders have, with much frustration and setback, sought to contribute significantly to reconciliation processes at grass-roots and other levels, and they will continue to do so. Whether it be in the episcopal province of South Sudan or the wider South Sudan Council of Churches, they, I know, stand ready to continue to play their part in whatever way possible—in peacemaking and reconciliation, and in humanitarian and aid work.
Therefore, I ask the Minister, in responding to this debate, to pledge that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to engage with us and with the faith communities, and perhaps especially with the office of the most reverend Primate, not least because the archbishop now has on his staff at Lambeth Palace a South Sudanese bishop who brings personal knowledge and awareness to that place.
Our sisters and brothers in South Sudan, especially the bishops and other leaders, have pledged to continue to work for lasting peace even against the considerable setbacks that have been happening and which no doubt will continue. They are there for the well-being of the whole nation and I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to seek the opportunity to engage with them as partners.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating my noble friend Lord Curry on securing today’s timely debate. He has a long-standing interest and love of Sudan—a country that needs all the friends it can get. Among its greatest friends is the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan, of which, along with my noble friend Lord Sandwich, I am an officer.
My first visit to the south of Sudan was when it was part of the Republic of Sudan 20 years ago. It was convulsed by a civil war that took 2 million lives. Khartoum’s systematic campaign of aerial bombardment left a country with a legacy of corpses and widows; a country devoid of infrastructure—schools, hospitals and homes were all destroyed by Khartoum’s Antonov bombers; a devastated country littered with small arms and weapons, militias and tribal conflicts. Khartoum ruthlessly promoted a radical Islamist ideology that sought to eliminate difference, killing Muslims who refused to comply as well as Christians and followers of traditional religions. It cynically bought support by setting one group against another using the age-old tactic of divide and rule.
Countries such as Nigeria would do well to study the appalling consequences of allowing the promotion of an ideology that is still being relentlessly pursued in other parts of Sudan, such as Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. These were the prevailing circumstances when partition came in 2011 and with the emergence of South Sudan as an independent country. Made up of the 10 southern-most states of Sudan, South Sudan is one of the most diverse countries in Africa. Born after decades of conflict, the eyes of the world watched as a brand new state was formed with the help of millions of dollars from the international community, which, as my noble friend trenchantly observed, has not been used to build a new state. I will be interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Bates, when he comes to reply, his assessment of how much of that money has been diverted into corrupt purposes and people’s pockets rather than for the purposes it was intended.
In 2011, Barack Obama proudly said:
“Today is a reminder that after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible”.
Next Monday, 9 July, will mark the seventh anniversary of the independence of South Sudan, but in those years the people of South Sudan have known little peace, let alone a new dawn. Humanitarian statistics, as we have heard, fail to tell the whole story of a conflict, but the latest figures coming out of South Sudan are truly staggering. Some 1.8 million people are internally displaced, with a further 2.4 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. At various points in the conflict, the Bidi camp in Uganda was receiving over 1,000 refugees every single day, making it the largest refugee camp in the world. Over half the population in South Sudan is facing severe hunger.
Right now, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, reminded us, an adolescent girl in South Sudan is three times more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary school. A recent study from the International Rescue Committee and the Global Women’s Institute at Georgetown University revealed that over 65% of women and girls have experienced some form of gender-based violence—an issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has done so much to highlight in her various roles in your Lordships’ House. The United Nations has found,
“massive use of rape as an instrument of terror”,
and Amnesty International has reported sexual violence as “rampant”.
South Sudan desperately needs peace. Without it, development and progress are utterly impossible. I would like to pay tribute to the Carter Center for its achievement, in 2016, in finally ending the blight of Guinea worm in South Sudan. But can the Minister tell us what effect the continuing conflict is having on vaccination programmes, in combating other diseases, and on issues such as child mortality, malnutrition and the fulfilment of development goals? I would particularly like to ask the Minister about the peace process and where we go from here. I commend the commitment, as others have done, and skill of the Foreign Office Sudan unit, led by the UK special envoy Chris Trott. The UK is rightly at the forefront of the international effort to promote an inclusive peace in South Sudan.
Last month, as we have heard, President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar signed a permanent ceasefire in Khartoum, under the watchful eyes of Uganda’s President Museveni and Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir. But we are also aware that there have been countless ceasefire agreements since the conflict began in 2013, which have consistently been honoured only in their breach. We would be foolish to see this as some sort of last word or to let up the pressure on South Sudan’s leaders, who have let down their own people for so long and proved unworthy of the possibilities opened up for them by John Garang and those who sacrificed so much to achieve independence. We should be wary, too, of President Bashir’s motives, given his indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide and his continuing depredations. He is driven primarily to see oil flowing from Sudan once again.
Faced with this difficult situation, I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to the following questions. First, does he agree that the passing of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill should pave the way for the UK to ramp up sanctions on the leaders in South Sudan? Crucially, these sanctions must be linked to the peace process and a wider UK strategy in South Sudan. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said earlier in that regard. Secondly, does the Minister agree that unless the UK escalates its diplomacy with President Museveni, including perhaps discussions with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, he is in danger of acting solely in his own interests? Thirdly, does he agree, as my noble friend argued, that the role of the South Sudan Council of Churches, alluded to a moment ago by the right reverend Prelate, will be crucial as it is one of the few actors left untainted by decades of inter-ethnic violence? What further help can we give to that process?
There is an old African saying that, when two elephants fight, it is the ground below that is flattened. Clearly, as two leaders have been fighting, it is the people of Sudan who have been suffering. These wonderful people deserve much better than that, and I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to give them the hope that the right reverend Prelate said it is our duty to provide.
My Lords, I too thank warmly my noble friend Lord Curry for securing this debate on one of the worst humanitarian crises in our world today. I will focus primarily on Bahr-El-Ghazal, in the north-west of South Sudan, which I visited many times during the previous war, inflicted by the Government in Khartoum between 1989 and 2005, when I walked through countless killing fields and burnt-out villages. I have also visited it many times since the peace agreement and during the present civil war, most recently earlier this year when I visited my small NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, or HART. We met hundreds of people displaced by conflict and witnessed the overwhelming humanitarian crisis they are now suffering. We have heard the statistics but they are worth repeating: there are 1.8 million internally displaced people now in South Sudan and an estimated 2.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries, the vast majority of whom are women and children.
Food insecurity is at unprecedented levels as the civil war has limited the access to farming land, reduced harvests and prevented cultivation due to fear of violence. The greater Bahr-El-Ghazal and Upper Nile regions continue to have the highest prevalence of acute malnutrition. According to the UN, two-thirds of households in the city of Wau— the major city in Bahr-El-Ghazal—are food insecure. The country remains highly susceptible to endemic disease, exacerbated by water, sanitation and hygiene problems. There are also escalating problems with the provision of healthcare caused by the looting of healthcare facilities, attacks on healthcare workers and a shortage of skilled healthcare professionals.
Our partner in Wau is the Anglican Archbishop Moses Deng, who works with Christian Action for Relief and Development, or CARD. He reported that on 13 June there were clashes between government and opposition forces just south-east of Wau. This is considered to be the first stage of a military campaign aimed at expelling opposition groups from the surrounding areas. CARD also reported that last week, on 30 June, when a new ceasefire was set to take effect, government forces and rebels launched attacks on each other’s positions. The archbishop told us that the repeated ceasefire violations are a result of people within both government and opposition forces being unhappy with the agreements that have been signed, or of their benefiting from the war. The situation is dire and needs urgent attention.
Time allows only one detailed example of the suffering endured. In March 2017, 5,000 IDPs flocked into Wau’s cathedral compound seeking refuge from local conflict. Archbishop Moses had to borrow money from local traders to buy food for these IDPs, as many were on the brink of death from starvation. He sent an urgent request to HART asking for emergency funds for life-saving food. HART, as a very small NGO, was able to send only £10,000—I wish I were Bill Gates. However, the Archbishop was profoundly grateful, saying this would buy a lot of sorghum and prevent him being arrested for his inability to repay loans from the traders.
This is surely an unacceptable situation. With DfID pouring massive funds into South Sudan, for which great credit is due and deserved, there must be a way for emergency funding to be made available to save lives in emergencies such as this. When I asked the Archbishop about applying to DfID he shrugged his shoulders in despair, saying he does not have the resources to invest in complex bureaucratic procedures, adding that, before aid is given by the big NGOs, assessments are made and by the time the assessments have been assessed, the people have died. I ask the Minister, therefore, what advice can be given to people such as our partners in Bahr-El-Ghazal and other parts of South Sudan on how to access emergency funds to save lives. I appreciate the need for accountability for taxpayers’ money, of course, but surely a situation such as this requires more readily available life-saving emergency funding than can be provided by a small NGO such as HART.
I can share a ray of light on this dark horizon. When those 5,000 IDPs flooded into the cathedral compound, they came from three different tribal groups with historic animosity and conflict. Our partners there exerted robust peacekeeping skills in their compound by grouping individuals from the three tribes together. Desperate civilians laid down side by side and made friends. They left three months later for the new IDP camp at Hai Masna with reconciliation achieved and hostility abated. Throughout the country, the South Sudan Council of Churches is intensifying its peace- building and reconciliation at grass-roots level, with initiatives to provide desperately needed education and healthcare. The diocese of Wau has also established new schools for children who were previously denied access to education because of constant aerial bombardment by the Khartoum regime. Secondary schools have been equipped with special provisions for girls reaching puberty, who often drop out of school at that stage for social and personal reasons.
We are continually inspired by the courage, resilience and resourcefulness of the people of South Sudan. Will Her Majesty’s Government ensure the provision of more accessible resources for the peacebuilding and skill-learning initiatives currently operating at local level, which are so important for conflict reduction and the building of essential skills and qualifications for the development of this new nation? Its people have suffered far too much for far too long, but they are still there, working hard to build a brighter future, and despite their pain they still smile their famous, courageous South Sudanese smiles, which make me feel very humble.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Curry, for securing this debate on this very important subject. It is important because it brings starkly to our attention the push factors that contribute to the numbers of people fleeing the most appalling conditions of human suffering, suffering that is all too often manmade, as typified here in South Sudan, and as articulated so forcefully by many noble Lords, as well as the right reverend Prelate, in their contributions to this debate.
The pattern is a familiar one when Africa’s big men turn their firepower on each other. So started this civil war in South Sudan, as President Kiir went to war with his deputy, Riek Machar. Civilian populations, especially women and children, bear the brunt of the violence, and sex is all too often used as a weapon of war, with devastating effect. Several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, have given us graphic details.
Research from Save the Children tells us that the main killer of children in conflict zones is inadequate access to healthcare and malnutrition, which kills 20 times more children than the violence of the conflict itself. Across South Sudan, children continue to die of treatable diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia. One solution is to shift more resources to low-cost community health delivery. Are the Government pushing this agenda with NGOs and the South Sudanese Government, where it is safe for them to do so? Is this a focus of their work with local civil society and faith groups working at grass-roots level?
Those who have survived the brutal conflict in the world’s newest nation flee to borders with or within neighbouring countries. Bidi Bidi in Uganda, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is one such camp. It is now the largest refugee settlement in the world, covering an area of 100 square miles. Uganda has been noted as a generous host, housing 1.4 million people in 14 camps. Those granted refugee status are given plots of land to cultivate and allowed to settle and integrate with local communities and schools. Bidi Bidi has a makeshift theatre with a talent show and a shelter for women and girls which provides counselling. Those are just some of the features that typify the humane treatment of refugees there.
This enviable record of humanitarian outreach to refugees contrasts starkly with the treatment of refugees who have made their way to our shores—or not, as the case may be. At last week’s EU Council meeting, we saw the pressure that this mass movement of people—the largest since the Second World War—is bringing to bear in the West, with the media focused on whether it will or will not bring the German Chancellor down. Currently, it looks as though Angela Merkel will survive but, in the eyes of many, our contortions in the West dealing with people desperate to escape murder, rape and starvation, does not reflect well on us. Although Uganda’s refugee policy is considered exemplary worldwide, the country is reaching its limits.
Will our vision and leadership on this most momentous issue of our time include a concerted effort massively to increase support to refugee camps such as those in Uganda? This is surely a much better use of scarce resources than building walls of dubious benefit or fanciful disembarkation platforms. It would also have the added benefit of keeping people close to their former home. I do not want to live in a petrified fortress Europe, I want to live on planet earth.
The KPMG report, South Sudan Economic Snapshot H2 2017, paints a picture of an economy with significant unrealised potential, not least in agriculture. Of its 90% vast arable lands, 50% is considered to be prime agricultural land, yet only 4% is currently under cultivation. We know of South Sudan’s vast oil reserves, but research carried out in more peaceful times indicates rich mineral deposits, as well as gas. In April 2016, South Sudan joined the East African Community, opening up a massive regional market and, with it, hopes of export corridors to the south through Kenya. The peace dividend is potentially great, particularly if, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, said, the talent of the youth of South Sudan is harnessed.
For what it is worth, the troika released its statement last Friday on the success of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s efforts to drive forward the South Sudan peace process, culminating in the Khartoum declaration of agreement between President Kiir and Dr Riek Machar. Whether the ceasefire demanded will go the way of others remains to be seen. It has certainly got off to a shaky start. However, I welcome its rejection of self-monitoring as well as the statement of intent by the international community to stand ready to support action by IGAD and the African Union to put an end to allowing individuals to act with impunity. Given that, I seek the Minister’s assurance that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to give this agenda their full and wholehearted support and that nothing will dilute our commitment to hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses.
It is only through transparency and accountability that we can ensure that new streams of revenue will directly benefit the South Sudanese people and enable them to rebuild and create a framework of institutions that will allow peace and stability to return. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Curry, that we should call time on recent practices when government revenues have either been siphoned off into rearmament to fuel more conflict or squirrelled away into tax havens.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for initiating this debate. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has referred on numerous occasions to the situation in Sudan, and particularly South Sudan, as a manmade crisis. It is a manmade crisis that can, as we have heard in the debate, be avoided. I want to stress, as did the right reverend Prelate, that speakers on all Benches have reflected the mood of hope despite some of the circumstances that we have seen in the past.
Created in 2011 after decades of conflict, South Sudan was a symbol of hope for post-conflict societies, yet after just two years civil war broke out when President Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup, and we have seen the consequences. Of course we had the peace deal that was brokered in 2015 by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, but by July 2016 the conflict started again and since then we have seen escalating violence and tensions. According to Oxfam, around 4 million people have been displaced out of a total population of just 12 million; half the population is experiencing extreme hunger and over 60% is in need of humanitarian assistance.
All noble Lords speaking in this debate have referred to the ceasefire last week and the agreement reached between Kiir and Machar. The agreement introduces a pre-transitional period of 120 days, in which as we have heard there are still outbreaks of violence, and then there is to be a power-sharing Government for three years that will be led by Kiir and will include three vice-presidents, the most senior of whom is to come from the Machar faction. After the failure of the previous agreements, the key issue for the international community and for the United Kingdom is how to maintain the pressure to keep the South Sudanese leaders engaged in this process. Like the noble Lord, Lord Curry, I would like to hear from the Minister about the concrete steps we can now take to hold those leaders to account, and like the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I think that targeted sanctions are an important element of the suite that we have available. I also certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the Government should consider using the powers in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, as it is now. Of course, there were many debates when that Act was going through on how precisely we can use targeted sanctions to hold people to account and ensure that they comply with international law. That will, I hope, have an important response from the Minister this evening.
The Government have also been using the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund for programmes in South Sudan. It was, of course, used very heavily in the 2015 agreement. What are the Government considering about how that fund can be used to underpin the new agreement? I know that we can look at failures, but we should also look at concrete examples of where it has worked, and I hope that the Minister can respond on that. Noble Lords have all referred to neighbouring countries, particularly Uganda, so I hope that the Minister can also outline how we can—as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said—increase diplomacy with the President. I hope that the Minister will be able to say this evening that there are direct talks with the Foreign Secretary to ensure that the process is underpinned and that we do not just leave it to chance.
I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, will highlight exactly what the United Kingdom has been doing through DfID to support projects in South Sudan. The UK spends around £130 million annually and is constantly one of the world’s top three donors. Its work has involved providing life-saving food assistance to 440,000 people in 2016 and, in 2017, offering emergency food aid and livelihood support to nearly 500,000 people. As we have heard in the debate, the United Nations is now warning and predicting that famine will return and that food insecurity will be greater this year than last year, with starvation once again being used as a weapon of war—it is a manmade humanitarian crisis; that is what we need to remind ourselves. In stories of conflict it is, as we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, women and children who pay the highest price, particularly through the use of rape as an instrument of terror.
I conclude with the evidence presented to the International Development Committee in its evidence session last December, in which Dame Rosalind Marsden, the former ambassador and EU special representative for Sudan and South Sudan, claimed that the UK could do more to focus on local peacebuilding, taking regional factors into account, and understanding,
“the different dynamics of the conflict in South Sudan at subnational level”.
I hope that in his summation of the debate, the Minister will be able to tell us how we are going to devote more efforts to peacebuilding in the programmes across South Sudan.
My Lords, as always when this subject is raised, it has been a fascinating and extremely well-informed debate. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, to whom we all pay tribute for securing this debate, reminded us at the outset of the level of hope at the birth of the nation in 2011. He went on to explain the layers of complexity that existed then, and about the enormous natural resources and fertile lands that were there. He reminded us that doing nothing is not an option.
My noble friend Lady Anelay, who did so much in this area when she was the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence, and who was of course my predecessor as Minister of State at DfID and a distinguished Foreign Office Minister, reminded us that this is a manmade battle for power and wealth. She included that powerful quote from the South Sudanese MP, Martha Martin Dar, which in many ways captures what is driving this. She described it as a war that is manmade, a political battle for power and wealth and a war that uses sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon. She is exasperated with those who sell arms to both sides to prolong the conflict.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about the resilience of the nation, the depravity of sexual violence and how it is being used, and how women and children are once again the front-line victims of this conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to the work of the all-party group on South Sudan, which has done tremendous work. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to it as well. He talked about the initial hopeful migration—almost the exodus, if you like—that had taken place, and then the stark reality, particularly with those stories of children as young as 11 in the capital city.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, reminded us that, whatever the temptation to despair, the international committee must persevere. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester reminded us of the importance of the Church’s role. He reminded us of the special connection with the diocese of Salisbury and of the special commitment of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who I know Chris Trott, the UK special representative for Sudan and South Sudan, will meet later this week on the importance of peacekeeping and reconciliation.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about the effect in Uganda of the refugee crisis and urged us to take further action to bring those responsible to justice. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, again drew on her personal experiences and the incredible work of HART in caring for those in need. She raised questions about how we can improve the way we get emergency funding into crisis situations and work to do more on peacebuilding and conflict prevention.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, gave that stark statistic that more people die through preventable health crisis situations in conflict areas than through the conflict itself. She stressed the importance of providing support. But she also gave us an element of hope by quoting from the KPMG report, which talked about the incredible natural resources, minerals and agriculture present in that land, if they can only be tapped into securely. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, concluded by saying that we must use every lever and tool that we have in the box in diplomacy, sanctions and funds to ensure that we rally round all nascent peace agreements to try to make progress.
In the time available, I will make some remarks then turn to the specific questions that noble Lords raised. As many noble Lords have already said, the situation in South Sudan is appalling. We should be under no illusions that the humanitarian catastrophe the country is experiencing is entirely manmade. Thousands have been killed and a third of the population have fled their homes. Conflict is driving the largest refugee crisis in Africa. Appalling and widespread human rights abuses continue to be reported, including horrific levels of sexual and gender-based violence.
The conflict continues to drive a severe humanitarian crisis. The UN has appealed for $1.72 billion this year alone to address the acute needs of the people. Food insecurity is at its worst in the country’s history. South Sudan is fertile enough to grow all the food it needs, but fighting continues to impair agricultural production. As the lean season begins, 7 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. Due to ongoing obstructions faced by the humanitarian community, famine remains a risk in some areas.
Conflict has decimated South Sudan’s fragile health and education systems. South Sudan has one of the highest rates of severe poverty in the world and its health needs are vast. The South Sudanese economy is also in crisis, exacerbated by the dire humanitarian situation. Inflation, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, reminded us, is soaring and average household incomes have fallen by 80% since 2013 when fighting began.
As it acts to address the crisis, the international community continues to face obstructions. According to the UN, in 2017 there were more incidents than ever before of aid being obstructed. It estimates that the Government of South Sudan are responsible for more than half these incidents. In addition, 106 aid workers have been killed since the conflict began. The targeting of those trying to alleviate the crisis is barbaric and must cease immediately.
Noble Lords will be aware that the UK Government have been at the forefront of the international response to the crisis. We are consistently one of the top three donors. UK aid is reaching hundreds of thousands of people and saving lives despite the challenging operating environment. It is clear that the solution to South Sudan’s crisis is political stability. Without it, suffering will worsen and dire consequences for more generations to come will ensue. Efforts to put the peace process back on track have been led by the regional body, IGAD. The UK, along with our international partners, has been working closely with IGAD and its member states to give high-level dialogue between the parties the best chance of success.
Noble Lords referred to the talks held in Khartoum last week between President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar and other opposition parties. They signed the Khartoum declaration on 27 June, including agreement on a permanent ceasefire. The UK, with our troika partners, commends IGAD’s efforts to drive forward the peace process and we take note of the Khartoum declaration. We hope that the principles it outlines will help build confidence between the parties and guide the difficult decisions needed to reach comprehensive wider agreement. While we welcome the renewed commitment to a permanent ceasefire, both the region and the parties to the conflict must ensure that the agreement is implemented in full without delay and is robustly and independently monitored. A sustained end to the fighting is a critical prerequisite for that process.
I will address as many questions as I can in the time available. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about anti-money laundering actions and what sanctions might be available. The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act provides the power for the UK to impose sanctions on regimes after the UK has left the EU, including against individuals involved in gross human rights abuses, via so-called Magnitsky clauses. The UK is committed to promoting peace and strengthening human rights in South Sudan and holding to account those responsible for the worst violations. I will address the specific points raised about the UN Security Council later.
The noble Lord also asked what we were doing to help South Sudan’s health system. The UK is a leading contributor to the health sector in South Sudan. We are the lead donor to the multi-donor Health Pooled Fund, through which we are supporting 800 front-line health centres, delivering health and nutrition services for children and mothers in 80% of the country. Last year the Health Pooled Fund provided more than 6.5 million health treatment consultations, including 2.5 million to children under five.
The noble Lord spoke about corruption. Corruption continues to plague South Sudan’s development. The international community must ensure that our support does not fuel or prolong the conflict. The UK has a zero-tolerance approach to corruption and the diversion of aid. We do not give any money to the Government of South Sudan and make it clear at the highest levels that we will not tolerate attempts to divert aid for such purposes. On the subject of diplomacy and the work that has been done by President Museveni, we recognise the important role regional leaders can play in pressuring South Sudan’s leaders to allow the peace process to succeed. Ministers regularly raise this issue with regional counterparts. In fact, I did so with President Museveni in Kampala last year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about the availability of emergency funds. DfID monitors the humanitarian situation closely with international partners such as the UN. For example, between January and March 2018, money was released to UNICEF to enable emergency cholera prevention. We have also released emergency money through the World Food Programme. She asked about specific issues relating to HART. I am happy to meet her to see what we can do to improve our performance in that area.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked about the refugee crisis. In December the UK announced an additional £52 million to be made available to cope with the influx of refugees to countries in the region, including Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia. Through DfID’s South Sudanese refugees and migration programme, we have provided life-saving support and humanitarian assistance for up to 150,000 South Sudanese refugees in Sudan.
My noble friend Lady Anelay asked about the progress of the troika on the ceasefire. We welcome the Government of South Sudan’s commitment as a signatory to the Khartoum declaration. In spite of repeated commitments, the international community continues to face obstructions to the delivery of life-saving aid, and this is unacceptable.
The noble Lord, Lord Curry, called for an embargo on arms. We strongly support the UN arms embargo and have been lobbying in the region for support for precisely that approach. He talked about the dependence on aid and the need for that to be reduced. The humanitarian situation in South Sudan is unprecedented. The UK remains committed to the people of South Sudan but humanitarian aid is not sustainable. Peace must be achieved and prosperity built on the immense natural resources in the country.
My noble friend Lady Anelay asked about our position on current projects and whether we are still the second-largest contributor. Yes, we are. The UK is the second-largest humanitarian contributor to the 2018 humanitarian response in South Sudan, according to the UN, but we are also urging other countries to step up to the plate and meet the entire target that has been set in terms of the needs. She also asked about our plans to protect civilians. As requested by the UN, nearly 400 UK troops have been deployed to support the UK mission, and I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to their performance. They have been awarded peacekeeping medals for the selfless way in which they have worked to protect people, particularly in the camps. My noble friend asked what we intend to do to encourage others to comply. We have played a leading role in the Security Council’s decision in May committing to consider sanctions and an arms embargo if violence does not cease. We also played a leading role in the implementation of EU sanctions against three key South Sudanese leaders in February this year and welcome the introduction by the US of an arms embargo echoing the EU’s long-standing position.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester asked what we will do to continue to engage with faith groups. We believe that they are significant. Indeed, the only institutions on the ground are the faith institutions, the churches. We confirm that the UK will continue to engage with them. The UK recognises the vital role that the Church has to play in establishing peace in South Sudan. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, asked which countries contribute troops to the UN mission. They are Mongolia, South Korea, India, Ethiopia and Rwanda, among others.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked about actions taken by the UK to address the root causes of the conflict. The UK provides funding for the South Sudan Council of Churches’ action plan for peace.
I realise that I have not covered all the points, but I shall draw to a close by making two points. First, the UK Government are clear that the new ceasefire does not negate the need to respond to repeated violations of the December 2017 cessation of hostilities agreement. We stand ready to support the action of IGAD and the African Union. We will continue to seek measures through the UN Security Council. It is also crucial that the agreement sees the inclusion of a wide range of constituencies, including civil society, and we will continue to work with the South Sudan Council of Churches.
Before I conclude, I should say that I am delighted that Chris Trott has done incredible work with his team in peacebuilding on the ground—the hard work. He is a human dynamo in the way he works around this area. He has joined us in the Box this evening, and if noble Lords would care to adjourn to an appropriate Committee Room where refreshments are served, they can join us to discuss this.
In answer to the challenge about South Sudan, we will not walk by on the other side when people are suffering. That is not what the UK does. That is our reputation in this world. We will not give up hope.
House adjourned at 6.59 pm.