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On July 9, 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan and became the world’s youngest country. After more than two decades of civil war, it was hoped that this separation would finally lead to peace for the people of the South. Unfortunately, independence has not brought stability to the entire country, as ongoing border clashes and internal violence continue to cause displacement. At the end of 2013, fighting broke out between government forces and those loyal to the country’s former vice-president Riek Machar. More than 700,000 people have been internally displaced by this fighting, and almost 150,000 others have fled South Sudan and are living as refugees in neighboring countries.
Current Humanitarian Situation in South Sudan
South Sudan continues to experience a humanitarian crisis in many areas of the country. More than 70,000 people have sought shelter on United Nations military bases, where they are living in extremely cramped conditions. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of others displaced by the recent fighting have yet to receive help, and are living in dire conditions with little access to food, clean water, or shelter. There is an urgent need for increased medical and humanitarian assistance throughout the country.
Access to food also remains a primary concern. Many markets were destroyed in the fighting, and food prices remain very high. According to the WFP, more than 3.7 million need food assistance. An attempt is being made to provide food to those in need. However, the approaching rainy season means that access to many parts of the country will be cut-off, making it impossible to reach those millions of people in desperate need of assistance.
When violent conflict breaks out, the United States and other United Nations member states often call for the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces to create stability and protect people from harm. The UN Security Council has explicitly instructed peacekeepers to protect civilians under “imminent threat of violence” in most UN peacekeeping mandates since 1999. But there is no clarity as to what “protection” means in practice. Which circumstances require action and what level of force should be used? This has resulted in a lack of proper training, guidance and resources for peacekeepers to accomplish protection activities.