The worsening security situation in South Sudan has severely hampered transportation of vital aid supplies, creating the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe, according to a UNICEF logistics expert based in the region.
“If nothing is done, it will turn into a disaster,” Yuji Taketomo said in an interview during a brief visit to Japan in September from the fledgling northeast African nation.
His task in South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011 and is struggling with poverty and food shortages, is to secure routes for delivering food and other relief aid to its 1.4 million internally displaced people — especially malnourished children.
But the 48-year-old Taketomo said UNICEF has failed to bring sufficient goods to the country due to the declining security situation.
Fighting that erupted last December between government forces and rebels has killed several thousand people in the country. The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday extended a peacekeeping mission there by six months until May 30 to focus on protecting civilians.
Taketomo was assigned to Somalia in the 1990s by a civic aid organization. He joined UNICEF in 1999 and has worked in such conflict-torn countries as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although he has extensive experience operating in dangerous regions, he described the situation in the northern town of Bentiu as the worst he had ever seen.
In Bentiu, there were more than 100 abandoned bodies scattered throughout the town.
“I have never seen such a horrible scene,” Taketomo said.
Based primarily in Kenya as an expert in logistics and procurement in charge of 21 countries in eastern and southern Africa, the deepening crisis in South Sudan caused Taketomo to spend more than 120 days in the country starting in February.
“We can see no exits,” he said, although he hopes the civil war will come to an end as quickly as possible.
Engaged in humanitarian support activities for more than two decades, Taketomo said he has no intention of quitting because the activity is “worth doing.”
A native of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, Taketomo also helped victims of the offshore Great East Japan Earthquake, which heavily damaged parts of the Tohoku region in March 2011 and spawned giant tsunami that wiped out much of Honshu’s northeastern coastline and set off a triple reactor core meltdown.
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