Covid-19 and fighting between ethnic groups are spreading in South Sudan, a United Nations envoy warned on Friday.
David Shearer, head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, pointed to a “steeply increasing rate of infection” from the coronavirus and “a really high increase in sub-national conflict and violence.”
The country is now reporting about 2,000 cases of Covid-19 resulting in 40 deaths, Mr Shearer said at a press briefing. Among those infected are 54 UN personnel working in South Sudan, he told reporters.
But with only 10,000 tests conducted in a total population of 12 million, the prevalence of the virus is probably much greater than what has been measured so far, the envoy added.
Deaths due to other diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea may soon increase as well, Ambassador Shearer warned.
If the coronavirus forces the shutdown of UN-run health clinics around the country, “the risk is that the death rate will be higher than what we predict for Covid-19,” he said.
Ambassador Shearer also offered a pessimistic appraisal of the political and military situations in South Sudan.
“Very little progress” has been made in delivering effective governance in the country since the formation of a unity government in February, he said.
“What we need to see is a unity government functioning as a unity government and not as a series of parties,” the UN diplomat said.
One outcome of this inaction is the failure to appoint governors of South Sudan's states, Mr Shearer said.
And that has enabled local conflicts to intensify, with a four-fold increase in the number of security incidents around the country in the past three months, he noted.
Much of the fighting is between ethnic groups, “but more and more we're seeing uniformed personnel joining in,” Mr Shearer said.
“Our worry is that the ceasefire holding since 2018 will start to falter and unravel as this continues to get out of control.”
Criminal violence is also on the rise, he said.
That may partly be due to the failure to integrate rebel fighters and “irregular forces” into the South Sudan army, Mr Shearer suggested.
Some young militants who had joined training sites intended to facilitate integration of forces “have been walking away because they are not being paid or don't have supplies,” he said.
“A couple of areas have been an uptick in criminal activity, and we're putting that down to people who are desperate and have a gun.”