South Sudan criticises UK aid cuts

According to agencies such as the UN's World Food Programme, the country of 11 million is "on the brink of famine".

Video Transcript

[BACKGROUND CONVERSATION]

JOHN SPARKS: The people who run this country wouldn't use a word like "Famine." But that is what the aid agencies are trying to prevent. For the telltale signs of a human catastrophe are all around in South Sudan. You see it in the eyes and extended bellies. And the international community has had to act.

- [SUDANESE SPEECH]

JOHN SPARKS: We traveled northeast to the epicenter of this crisis in an unstable region called Pibor.

Bitter fighting between different tribes has made it dangerous on the ground. And unprecedented flooding in South Sudan has washed out the roads. The only way to Pibor is in one of these.

[CHOPPER BLADES WHIRRING]

This humanitarian hub is supplied from the air. But the people who live here can no longer count on their second biggest donor. The UK has slashed its aid programs. A key fund, worth 120 million pounds a year, indefinitely delayed, we're told, while money supporting rudimentary health clinics has been cut. This one-year-old, [? Koroc, ?] was brought in six days ago. She was severely malnourished and suffering from pneumonia.

DR. VICTOR DAVID: The child even had a very high fever. So we're treating with IV antibiotics, and some fluids.

JOHN SPARKS: What would have happened if she hadn't been brought in?

DR. VICTOR DAVID: I cannot know for certain, but I don't think the child would have made it past the day of admission, or at most two days, if they had not received immediate medical attention. The number of severe, acutely malnourished children at this clinic has doubled in the past year. Yet the UK has cut the funding that supports clinics nationwide by almost seven million pounds. People will die, said the director of one NGO.

PETER MAYEN MAJONGIT: We know that it's so unfriendly and so inhuman for any country to cut its aid at this particular time.

JOHN SPARKS: The South Sudanese government said it was notified of the cuts in a letter. But the UK hasn't provided any details.

PETER MAYEN MAJONGIT: We ask ourself, as a government, what have gone wrong between us and the British government? Because we felt that there's a time for them to double their effort to help us.

[ENGINE REVVING]

JOHN SPARKS: South Sudan has lost its way since achieving independence 10 years ago. The country is poorly governed, and poorly served by those elected to lead it. And its citizens have suffered from near continuous political and tribal war.

Aid organizations have stepped in, but this is not an easy place to work.

The people who operate our compound have told us to get out.

During our stay in Pibor, we were evacuated from our rooms after a hostile tribe attacked the town.

We've got to go through the gates, and down alleyways, and through mud. The key thing is avoiding the open road.

We reached the base of the UN Protection Force in Pibor, and waited for the trouble to subside.

Part of the job, I guess.

- Anything can happen anytime. Things are unpredictable here.

[RHYTHMIC CHANTING IN SUDANESE]

JOHN SPARKS: The next day, the men in Pibor prepared themselves for war. They are members of the Murle tribe, and they're organized into age groups, the youngest going into battle first.

[RHYTHMIC CHANTING IN SUDANESE]

JOSHUA KONYI IRER: [SUDANESE SPEECH]

JOHN SPARKS: They were addressed by the chief administrator, who represents the national government. But he told them to defend their community at all costs.

JOSHUA KONYI IRER: We don't know why my people, they are coming to attack us. But, yeah, I cannot say something?

JOHN SPARKS: Yeah.

JOSHUA KONYI IRER: But we are ready to fight.

JOHN SPARKS: You're ready to fight?

JOSHUA KONYI IRER: Yeah.

JOHN SPARKS: Peace and sustenance are in short supply, although British officials say South Sudan remains a top priority despite the impact of pandemic related cuts. But the UN's Food Program is running out of money, the UK reducing its contribution by 30%.

MATTHEW HOLLINGWORTH: We have had to take some really painful and difficult decisions. So in the areas where we are trying to avert a famine, we are taking from the hungry to give to the starving. That's never an easy decision to take. But it's one we are forced to take this year.

JOHN SPARKS: Food will get through if the money's found, with the WFP now flying in supplies to areas on the brink of famine. And the lives of millions depend on it. But Britain has decided this humanitarian mission comes at too high a price. John Sparks, Sky News in South Sudan.