I thank the Chairman and other committee members.
South Sudan is the newest nation in the world, having been created in 2011. Several months after the creation of this new state, an intense power struggle between the two leaders of the country, Riek Machar on one side and President Salva Kiir Mayardit on the other, triggered a conflict that escalated rapidly along ethnic lines. Today, 20 months after the outbreak of the recent conflict, the situation is South Sudan is dire.
As members can see from the map provided, the green area in the north east of the country is called the greater upper Nile region. After the conflict broke out, many of the hostilities took place in this region, especially in newly inhabited areas of the greater upper Nile and Unity State. Today, 1.6 million people are internally displaced, mainly in the green area shown on the map. This is the priority zone for the ICRC and the place where we are most active. Much of it is inaccessible because it is mainly rural and there are very few roads. For six months of the year it is swampy; therefore, the transportation of goods and personnel into the area requires helicopters and aeroplanes, which makes humanitarian action very difficult.
Six or seven ceasefire agreements have been concluded so far, but each time hostilities have continued, especially along the front lines in the areas indicated, displacing more people and further displacing those who had already sought refuge in other areas. Four or five weeks ago a fragile peace agreement was reached, but as events of yesterday and today illustrate, it has not stopped ongoing hostilities.
As we speak, there are clashes in Unity State and more to the south of the country in the Equatorias.
The humanitarian situation is very dire. As I told the committee, 1.6 million people are displaced in those areas and the primary concern is the food need those people have. They are agri-pastoralists who base their livelihood on three pillars, namely, fish, planting and cattle, and all three pillars have been affected. The cattle have been massively depleted, the planting season has not been good as displaced people cannot plant or can only randomly plant, and some have been driven away from river beds where they are normally able to fish. It is estimated that 60% of the population of South Sudan, especially the displaced in areas that are difficult to access, are highly food insecure and are dependent on food aid as it guarantees their immediate survival.
During the conflict, health structures have been massively destroyed and it is estimated that more than 100 health structures in a country that already had one of the weakest health coverages worldwide have been either looted or destroyed. Other services are equally very weak or non-existent and the most vulnerable of the displaced are in areas difficult to access, so it is a fight for life and one of the worst humanitarian situations in the world today.
Last year, the ICRC rapidly deployed an emergency response to what happened, especially in these difficult to access areas in the north east. We established a food pipeline and regular food air drops to ensure the nutrition of many thousands of displaced people. This, combined with health services to the many wounded due to the fighting, comprises the emergency response of the ICRC and is shown on the slide. Some 1.3 million food rations have been distributed and non-food items have also been provided, such as tarpaulins for people who have been displaced. We have always tried to combine food aid with livelihood and resilience activities to create independence for the population, where possible, and we have provided seeds, tools and fishing kits, as well as vaccinating cattle to enhance the resilience of the affected population. We have worked together with the Ministry of Agriculture, especially in cattle vaccination. Cattle are very important in South Sudan. There are more cattle than inhabitants and every family has some cattle, which helps to increase the resilience of the family. The little children get the milk of the cow and the adults slaughter it when there is no other way to feed the family.
Beside the emergency response, in terms of livelihood and nutrition the medical aspect is very important. There are numerous war wounded of the conflict and, in the past 20 months, we have mobilised five mobile surgical teams to operate on war wounds on both civilians and weapon bearers in some 14 makeshift clinics in the bush. In total, 6,500 life-saving surgeries have been carried out in that period, which is a big logistical effort because often the wounded have to be collected by helicopter or aeroplane close to the front line and brought to areas where life-saving surgeries can be carried out. More comprehensive health care was given in hospitals and in primary health care centres. The ICRC supported this because health services in those areas are almost non-existent and many people die of common pathologies such as malaria and cholera if not treated immediately.
The third pillar of the ICRC is training and many of the weapon bearers, be they soldiers or fighting for the opposition army, have been trained to better respect international humanitarian law, such as the Geneva Convention. We established a confidential dialogue with the commanders of each party and accompanied this dialogue with recommendations on how to ensure better respect of civilians.
The outlook for South Sudan is not very positive. A fragile peace agreement has been concluded but very recent developments show that even if this peace agreement holds, the process will be very long and rocky. Regardless of that, the humanitarian needs in South Sudan will last for many years to come. Civilians will not go back to their homes, often to their destroyed villages, and invest in rebuilding if there is not a more solid peace and if there are no positive signs that they can trust in the future. The role of the international community is very important in the sense that parties to the conflict have to be reminded to respect the civilian population and basic rules of humanitarian law, but financial support is highly necessary. I thank the Irish Government for its continued support to the ICRC and to humanitarian action on the whole. I also thank the Irish Red Cross which very recently collected funds for the ICRC. I express my thanks to the Irish people for their help in alleviating the suffering of the population in one of the worst crises of the world.