While I wish my first post of 2014 could have been on a happier subject, I want to give a quick update on the dire situation unfolding in South Sudan.
As you’ve probably heard, fierce fighting between rival political factions has broken out there in recent days, taking a huge toll on the civilian population and fueling fears of a civil war. Nearly 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and thousands have lost their lives.
The United Nations has been in South Sudan since it started down the path to independence, and the UN continues to work on the front lines, protecting civilians and restoring peace to the world’s newest nation as we speak.
In some areas, the UN is literally standing between innocent lives and the violence, with more than 60,000 people taking shelter at UN peacekeeping compounds across the country. Specialized agencies like the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) – with support from the U.S. State Department and USAID – are also working around the clock to provide food, water, health care, and more.
Unfortunately, with 4 million people already affected by the turmoil in some way, resources are understandably stretched incredibly thin. And as UN peacekeepers risk their lives to help stamp out the violence in South Sudan, sadly, four peacekeepers have been killed in the line of duty.
Despite the danger, the UN isn’t going anywhere. Its diverse network of dedicated staff — from health experts to peacekeepers — will continue doing what it takes to save lives and bring about stability — for good. On December 24, the UN Security Council approved strengthening the mission to 12,500 peacekeepers and more than 1,300 police up from 7,000 and 900, respectively.
Enabled by the UN and partners like the United States, peace talks between the two factions in South Sudan began on January 3, and I’m hoping to have better news to report soon.
However, the UN can’t do it alone, which is why it’s critical that the U.S. remains a strong, committed partner. That includes full funding for the mission.
As it stands now though, we are underfunding each of the UN’s peacekeeping missions — including the mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Congress long ago placed an arbitrary cap how much it would pay for the UN’s overall peacekeeping budget. And while over the past years and months we have asked the UN to do more for the sake of peace and security — including in South Sudan — we have not adjusted the cap to match our demands. As a result, the U.S. is not paying its full assessed rate for any peacekeeping mission.
For UNMISS alone, the shortfall comes to about $10 million dollars. That’s a lot of money for a mission that’s being asked to protect a nation nearly the size of Texas.
As I mentioned, peace talks began on January 3, and while intense fighting continues in South Sudan right now, I’m hoping concerted action from the US, the UN, and the entire international community will bring the country back from the brink.
You can find out more by visiting www.betterworldcampaign.org and following me on Twitter at @yoyoyeo2. And ask your Congressman to fully fund the U.S. share of the UN peacekeeping budget.