A senior U.N. official warns South Sudan is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the country became independent in July 2011.

The celebrations that greeted that joyful event and the hopes that were raised for a peaceful, more prosperous future have been dashed. More than a decade later, the country remains riven in conflict, crushed by multiple natural and man-made disasters, and unable to feed its population.

U.N. humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, Sara Beysolow Nyanti, said the number of people struggling to eke out a living keeps rising year after year. She said year after year, more people are plunged into extreme poverty and desperation. She said the situation cannot go on. Something must change.

“As much as we need $1.7 billion this year for humanitarian needs, we also need funding for development and for peacebuilding, ensuring social cohesion, and resilience,” she said. “Humanitarian aid will not solve the problems of the people of South Sudan…We need to make sure we protect and support those who are most vulnerable, but at the same time, where possible, we need to start now to build capacity.”

Nyanti said it is important to empower those who can feed themselves. She did, however, acknowledge the primary need to provide food to some 8.3 million people suffering from acute hunger.

She said aid also must be given to millions of people who have no access to safe drinking water and sanitation or to medical care. She said it is crucial to provide protection and psychosocial treatment to vulnerable people who are victims of violence, human rights violations, and gender-based sexual violence, including rape.

While the emergency needs remain a priority, Nyanti said donors also should invest in development projects in relatively stable areas of South Sudan, which could benefit from such support.

“We are talking about a humanitarian operation that will be structured in a way to increase the dignity that the people of South Sudan deserve,” she said. “And that will come with empowerment. It will come with us doing things differently, looking at cross-development and peace. Humanitarian response is necessary now to save lives. A development response is necessary to preserve the future.”

Humanitarian coordinator Nyanti said investing in development in South Sudan and shoring up people’s ability to become self-sufficient will loosen the country’s dependency on international aid. She said the benefits of helping people to help themselves are undeniable.

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