Medair calls for peace in South Sudan

Humanitarian aid organization Medair is urging all conflicting parties in South Sudan to allow them safe and unhindered access to crisis areas so they may be able to offer emergency care to people in need. 

In a press release, Medair writes that the security and freedom of movement of Medair staff in Maban in the Upper Nile state is coming under threat due to the unstable political situation.

"We call on all those involved in the conflict to give us safe and unhindered access, so that we can continue our work", says Anne Reitsema, lands-director of Medair for South Sudan. "Because of the violence, the lives of thousands of people in the Batil camp and the area of Bunj are in danger. To survive, these people count on us for clean drinking water and medical care."

The NGO has had a presence in South Sudan since 1992, offering food, healthcare, water and sanitation and emergency shelter to those people affected by the conflict.

According to Al Jazeera, 10,000 people have been killed in this civil war in the past seven months. People are fleeing their homes, and an ignored infrastructure means that the country is on the brink of famine.

In December 2013, President Salva Kiir accused Vice President Riek Machar of plotting a coup. Since then, ethnic groups have been massacring each other. Gang rapes, mass destruction and looting of civilian property have forced 1.5 million South Sudanese from their homes, The Guardian writes. Almost 5 million people in the new country are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Medair offers such assistance, but cannot do so efficiently if their own safety, and the safety of their camps, supplies and patients are not safeguarded. Communications Officer for Medair, Wendy van Amerongen, tells the NL Times that there are around 300 Medair staff currently on the ground in South Sudan, which includes South Sudanese staff.

The NGO takes security very seriously, and has strict protocols in making sure that their staff are as well equipped to deal with rising tensions in a crisis area as possible. "Medair makes sure staff are properly equipped with the skills and knowledge they need by giving regular security training and briefings during their time with the organization" Van Amerongen says.

Though Medair, in principle, does not employ armed guards, this measure may change if the government requires it, or if it becomes essential to ensure the safety of staff and the delivery of relief work. Van Amerongen says that Medair regularly evaluates and reviews the security situation, and amends protocol as required.

This week, peace talks between the conflicting parties in South Sudan resume in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, hosted by the International Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), an East African regional body.

According to Al Jazeera, apparent agreements to a ceasefire have been largely ignored by President Kiir and rival Machar, as violence has continued for weeks. Medair hopes that the peace talks will provide a quick resolution for the conflict.

Anne Reitsema says that Medair is always ready to react to the changing situation in South Sudan. "Also in these very difficult circumstances, Medair wants to continue to offer help to people in need."

In an interview with the NL Times, Wendy van Amerongen says that Medair always makes sure that their base camps have enough stocks of fresh water in warehouses. Other critical supplies are flown in from Juba or Nairobi.

Medair teaches people to be self-sufficient and knowledgeable about water, sanitation and hygiene, educating families on sanitation and how to harvest rainwater "with the aim of ensuring the transfer of skills and the impact of our work after we leave."

Despite the growing threat of violence in the area, Anne Reitsema is still hopeful, and still sees the good in the difficult work that Medair does. "It's nice to see how different aid organizations work together to help the most vulnerable people in these difficult times."

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