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U.N. official Valerie Amos warns of looming crisis in South Sudan

February 2, 2012 | 11:11 am

REPORTING FROM JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN -- The world’s newest nation, South Sudan, faces a devastating humanitarian crisis that could grow worse as people flee a border conflict with Sudan, the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator warned Thursday.

Valerie Amos told a news conference in Juba, the capital, that South Sudan’s recent threat to shut down all oil production would spell a more severe crisis for the poor when the government is forced to close down services for lack of funds.

South Sudan, which relies on oil for 90% of its budget and could lose billions of dollars in revenue, recently began to close down production in a deepening dispute with neighboring Sudan over oil revenues. Talks brokered by the African Union have failed to resolve the conflict over resource revenues.

Tribal massacres in the South Sudan states of Jonglei and Warrap, along with the simmering border conflict with Sudan and the squabble over oil revenues, threaten to paralyze the new state, which just last July was celebrating the heady birth of a nation. It seceded from Sudan in July after a peaceful referendum that followed a 2005 peace deal ending decades of war.

South Sudan oil must travel through Sudan via pipelines to reach world markets, and officials here have alleged that Sudanese counterparts are seizing oil and selling it as part of the dispute over revenues.

Amos flew to Pibor in Jonglei state Thursday. The town was the scene of recent massacres that saw villages attacked, women and children killed or abducted, and thousands of cattle stolen. The violence is part of long-standing rivalries between the Lou-Nuer and Murle tribes.

“It’s a terrible situation and I was able to see people who have lost their loved ones, their possessions and livelihoods,” she said. But she warned the crisis South Sudan faced was much broader.

“I’d like to emphasize my concern about the situation in South Sudan broadly,” Amos said. “The situation is very precarious and the risk of a dangerous decline is very real. The scope of this crisis cannot be ignored.”

An estimated 80,000 refugees have fled to South Sudan from clashes in the Sudan states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. They are desperately in need of emergency food aid, according to humanitarian agencies. Sudan has barred agencies from distributing aid in South Kordofan or Blue Nile despite an appeal by Amos to the Sudanese government early this month.

The U.N. has appealed for $760 million to meet humanitarian needs for the year, but Amos said the crisis could worsen and the needs balloon.

“I think that amount may increase as a result of some other actions that may happen, not only the oil shutdown but also if there’s a large movement from Sudan to South Sudan,” Amos said.

Humanitarian agencies have until March or April to get emergency food in place before the rainy season starts, isolating thousands of refugees desperately in need of food.


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Photo: Valerie Amos, the United Nations' coordinator for emergency relief, talks with local officials and humanitarian aid workers in the village of Walgak in South Sudan on Thursday. Credit: Pete Muller / Associated Press