UNHCR calls for good governance to address climate change

Andrew Harper, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Special Advisor for Climate Action, addressing Journalists at the end of his five-days visit to South Sudan on Friday (Photo: Philip Buda Ladu)

By Philip Buda Ladu

The UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Action who visited South Sudan has appealed for the implementation of the peace agreement and exercise of “Good Governance” by the government of South Sudan to ensure holistic approach to addressing climate change.

Andrew Harper, the UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Action who had a five days’ visit to South Sudan that ended on Friday where he toured some parts of the country affected by climate change impacts of flooding expressed concerns of the consequences to the local communities.

He visited flood affected areas of South Sudan including Old Fangak, Malakal and Jamjang and Yida which is the grip of drought to acquaint himself with the impacts and consequences of climate change in the country.

Climate change-driven flooding and drought are threatening to aggravate an already precarious situation in vulnerable parts of South Sudan, the UN Refugee Agency warned on Friday stating that concerted action is needed to mitigate its worst impacts.

He said climate change is real and the impact of climate change is having an unfair consequence to the vulnerable population of South Sudan.

However, Harper said they also need to remind the international community that South Sudan has very negligible elements to the global carbon footprint, saying “South Sudan has contributed very little to the reasons of global warming but its having to bear the consequences,” he argued.

He said one of the ways to tackle the challenges of climate change impacting the country is for the people of South Sudan to work together collectively in addressing the underlying courses, citing deforestation due to human economic activities putting pressure on the environment.  

“The issue of good governance, although in many parts we are seeing the will of the people, we are seeing laws put in place but there is no enforcement of those laws” he exclaimed. Stressing that people should understand and value the environment and it shouldn’t be abused or exploited but seen as the future.

He added that somebody abusing the environment which is the future of the people of South Sudan should be held accountable for that exploitation. “You need to have a rule of law, protection of the environment and you need to have the environment seen as an asset and the future of your country” Harper underscored. 

 “In 2021 South Sudan has already witnessed the worst flooding on record. Such events are set to become the norm not the exception in future” Harper said stressing the underlying vulnerabilities the country faces.

South Sudan is the largest source of Refugees in Africa, numbering more that 2.3 million and hosts one of the world’s largest peacekeeping operations.

It recently witnessed the highest floods levels in living memory in some parts of the country, while dealing with drought in others amid intermittent conflict.

Access to some of the most vulnerable populations is a major impediment for humanitarian interventions. Poor or no road infrastructure networks makes it hard for eternal support to reach remote locations such as Old Fangak, where the former airstrip is completely submerged and currently unusable for landing, said UNHCR.

Harper underlined that despite multiple challenges, the people have been extremely generous to those displaced by the violence or extreme weather, often sharing the meagre resources they have – however he cautioned, they need sustained support to avert devastating consequences.

“If we do not step up our support for the people of South Sudan, climate change and environmental degradation, coupled with ongoing insecurity mean that resources will further shrink leaving people with no means to survive” said Harper.

 “We know that if we do nothing, the cost will be high. By this I mean the devastating human consequences, but also the actual price tag for the international community. This is why it is so important to invest in preparedness, early warning and adaptation” he added.

During his mission to Yida, Jamjang, Bentiu, Malakal and Old Fangak, Harper witnessed what he called “remarkable islands of stability and peace. we cannot take these for granted and as a priority needs to invest in peaceful coexistence and environmental protection which are often directly linked”.

“If one thing is clear, then none of us can tackle the impacts of climate change on their own. This is why I am calling on the International Community to come together and work towards a South Sudan where people can return home in safety and dignity. Protected from persecution and conflict, but also from extreme weather” noted the UNHCR Special Advisor on Climate Action.

Harper said development actors and donors needed to step up and invest in infrastructure, work on governance and climate change adaptation. Following the examples of generous people of South Sudan who have already given so much, the visiting UNHCR Special Advisor on Climate Action assured their continued support to refugees and the people of South Sudan adding UNHCR is ready to do even more.

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