South Sudan has become the most violent country to deliver aid to last year, with 313 aid workers that were victims of major attacks, according to a report released by Humanitarian Outcomes on Monday.
The nation’s civil war was in its fourth year in 2017, leading to sustained violence against aid workers.
“It’s the third consecutive year that South Sudan tops the global list, underscoring the complexities in delivering aid in this war, and the impunity with which armed actors operate when attacking aid workers,” Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland said in a press release.
The leaders of both sides of the South Sudanese civil war signed a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement last week, hoping to lessen the violence against citizens and aid workers alike.
“As the latest peace agreement was signed just recently, if all conflict stops, it will take some time for conditions to improve on the ground,” Geno Teofilo, the Regional Head of Communications and Advocacy for East Africa and Yemen for the NRC, told The Globe Post. “South Sudan still suffers from a major food crisis, and there isn’t enough aid funding.”
The nation faced a famine last year, which prompted food distribution to tens of thousands of people. The famine may continue this year, according to the press release. In January, the U.N. estimated over 7 million people would be in “crisis” through the first half of 2018, forecasting 1.3 million children under the age of five to be threatened by acute malnutrition.
“We don’t know what the future holds, but we want to see improvement for aid worker security, so we urge that the new peace agreement includes promises that aid agencies are granted safe and unimpeded access to all parts of the country to deliver aid,” Teofilo said. “All parties to the conflict must commit to the safety of aid workers, so that they can continue their life-saving work.”
Workers are frequently kidnapped, wounded or murdered, with 139 losing their lives in 2017. Nearly 30 percent of all attacks against aid workers occurred in South Sudan last year, according to the report.
“Aid workers are protected by international law and must not be used as pawns in South Sudan’s conflict,” Egeland said. “Violence against aid workers paralyses our lifesaving work.”
For a nation that has been continually distressed by war and food scarcity, the peace agreement brings a hope that humanitarian aid will be able to continue work without pervasive violence in the future.
“This latest peace deal is an important step, on the longer road to peace, and we are cautiously optimistic that it will help bring an end to the conflict,” Teofilo said. “The people of South Sudan are longing for peace.”