AFP photographer Carl de Souza captured images of a group of South Sudanese military members marching with bright blue backpacks. The bags adorn the logo of the UN’s children agency UNICEF and were intended for young children affected by the ongoing crisis in South Sudan.
Spokeswoman Sarah Crowe strongly condemned the act of theft by the South Sudanese military.
“Such thefts display a complete disregard for the principle of protection of civilians and respect for humanitarian work,” Crowe said, urging the warring factions to “take appropriate action against the theft and use of supplies that are intended for the welfare of civilians – especially children,” said Crowe to AFP.
She said that a ‘large amount’ of supplies delivered by UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations have been stolen during the conflict. There have been other reported thefts at schools and hospitals. The already thin humanitarian response in South Sudan, due to funding shortfalls, struggles to meet the need of the more than 800,000 people displaced.
The UN estimates there are roughly 3 million people in need of immediate food assistance and as many as 7 million will need food aid by the end of the year.
Access has been another obstacle to relief work. Medical supplies were airlifted by UNICEF into South Sudan two weeks ago. The 35 tons transported included midwifery and obstetric surgery kits, malaria treatments, nutrients and tents.
“Children are dying from malnutrition and diseases that can be prevented in times of peace – such as measles and malaria. Our most urgent plea now is for all parties in the conflict to allow these humanitarian supplies to be transported and distributed safely to the children who have no part in this conflict,” said Dermot Carty, UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Programs.