UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- UN officials on Wednesday expressed grave concern over the dire security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan.
Although an agreement on the cessation of hostilities was signed on Dec. 21 and put into force days later, the security situation in the country remains volatile as there continue to be numerous violations of the agreement, UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the Security Council.
Those violations by the parties and the continuing hostile propaganda undertaken against one another are worrisome, as they illustrate a lack of will to honor their commitments, and undermine the regional and international efforts to revitalize the peace process, said Lacroix.
He also expressed deep concern over the high level of human rights abuses and violations against civilians, mainly women and children. "The gravity of conflict-related sexual violence is deplorable and constitutes an emergency in its own right."
The UN mission in South Sudan documented 111 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence in 2017, he said.
That figure, he noted, is a very conservative one given that the mission's ability to perform its monitoring and reporting tasks to verify violations has been restricted by interference of government institutions and by difficulty in access.
In 2017, there were 2,670 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, he said, adding that those human rights violations are compounded by impunity, with perpetrators not being held accountable.
A police officer, who was sentenced on Dec. 20 to three years imprisonment for raping a minor, was released the same day, allegedly on the order of the High Court Judge, said Lacroix. "This contributes to the perception of impunity across the country."
Briefing the Security Council at the same meeting, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller also expressed concern over sexual violence in South Sudan.
Humanitarian partners estimate that 1.8 million women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence in 2018, she said.
Mueller reported shocking humanitarian conditions in the country.
The latest food security analysis estimates that 5.1 million people are severely food insecure, an increase from the October-December period, she said. Some 1.5 million people are in emergency-level food insecurity, just one step away from famine, and around 20,000 people are already in famine conditions.
The next lean season, which begins in March, is likely to see food security worsen, and could see famine conditions spread to several new locations across the country, she warned.
Women and children are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity and their situation is projected to deteriorate. An estimated 250,000 children will be affected by severe acute malnutrition in 2018, she said.
The alarming levels of food insecurity and malnutrition are closely linked to people's inability to plant or harvest due to the ongoing conflict and constraints upon their freedom of movement, she noted.
Humanitarian access remains challenging in the war-torn country, resulting in delays and interruptions in humanitarian response, she said.
Last year, at least 28 aid workers were killed in the line of duty, and more than 1,100 incidents were reported, the highest annual count since the start of the conflict. Those incidents included killings, kidnappings, attacks against humanitarian assets and bureaucratic impediments.
The challenging operating environment is restricting the ongoing dry season pre-positioning of supplies and overall program delivery, she said.
Humanitarian response in South Sudan for 2018 requires 1.7 billion U.S. dollars. The world body is trying to help 6 million people -- more than half of the population -- with life-saving aid and protection.
Shortly after its independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan plunged into civil war. Up to 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed since late 2013. More than 2 million people have fled to neighboring countries, and an additional 1.9 million are internally displaced.
UN officials have repeatedly pointed out that the tragedy is South Sudan is purely man-made with selfish and greedy politicians to blame.