Why survivors of 2020 Beirut port blast have lost faith in Lebanese-led inquiry

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The massive explosion that hit Beirut Port two years ago has sparked shortages of essential items that continue to this day. (AFP file photo)
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This file photo shows a view of the Lebanese capital Beirut with its grain silos on May 24, 2020, months before the catastrophic August 4 , 2020 explosion. (AFP)
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In this July 29, 2022 photo, smoke rises from what was left of Beirut's iconic grain silos after the Aug 4, 2020 explosion. Fire hit the remaining silos last month. (AFP)
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What remains of the silos in the port of Beirut after the massive Aug. 4, 2020, burn on July 14, 2022 in a fire linked to rising temperatures. (AFP)
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Updated 04 August 2022

Why survivors of 2020 Beirut port blast have lost faith in Lebanese-led inquiry

  • Despairing and demoralized, families of victims are turning to foreign courts
  • Many oppose govt. plan to demolish port’s grain silos before completion of full inquiry

DUBAI: Two years ago, on Aug. 4, 2020, Ghassan Hasrouty walked into his office at the port of Beirut where he had worked a steady job for the past 38 years. He would not return home that day.

At 6:07 p.m. local time, hundreds of tons of hazardously stored ammonium nitrate ignited in Warehouse 12 where Hasrouty was working. He and several of his colleagues were killed instantly.

The third biggest non-nuclear explosion ever recorded in history devastated the port and a whole district of the Lebanese capital.

At least 220 people were killed, more than 7,000 wounded, and a city already in the throes of economic and political crisis was left paralyzed under a mushroom cloud of pink smoke.

“The investigation of the port explosion will be transparent. Take five days, and any officials involved will be held accountable,” Mohammed Fahmi, Lebanon’s interior minister at the time, said after the blast.

And yet, two years on, as families still reel from the loss of their homes, businesses and loved ones, the official Lebanese state’s investigation remains stagnant.

On July 31, part of the port’s now grimly iconic grain silos collapsed, sending a cloud of dust over the capital, reviving traumatic memories of the blast.

The Lebanese Cabinet recently approved plans for the controlled demolition of the silos, which were badly damaged but miraculously survived the 2020 blast, having sustained much of its force.

Plans to demolish what remained of Beirut's grains silos has sparked outrage among victims’ support groups, who want the structures preserved until a full probe into the blast is concluded. (AFP)

The decision has sparked outrage among Beirut residents and victims’ support groups who have called for the silos to be preserved until a full and proper investigation into the blast is concluded.

Many place the blame for the blast and its aftermath on corruption and mismanagement within the Lebanese government.

With a status quo originating from the days of the 1975 to 1990 civil war, which has rendered those in power effectively untouchable, the inquiry has descended into little more than a finger-pointing match as it moves from one presiding judge to the next.

With that, politicians have effectively ensured the complete impunity of officials who have long been wanted for questioning, arrest and prosecution.

Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal movement burn a portrait of Judge Tarek Bitar, the Beirut blast lead investigator, during a gathering in October 2021 to demand the Judge's dismissal. (AFP)

Officials potentially implicated in the blast have filed more than 25 requests demanding the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar and others involved in overseeing the inquiry.

Judge Bitar had charged four former senior officials with intentional negligence resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people in the explosion.

In response, some of the suspects have filed legal complaints against the judge, which led to the near-total suspension of the investigation in December 2021.

Two of these officials, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zaaiter, were just reelected as members of parliament.

“After seeing how the officials reacted after the blast, I know the path for justice is going to be long. Two years in, all the corrupt state is doing is just blocking investigations and escaping justice,” Tatiana Hasrouty, Ghassan’s daughter, told Arab News.

Relatives of victims of the Beirut port blast voice their anger. (AFP)

“This corruption is well rooted and was on full display when the director general of the Internal Security Forces, Maj. Gen. Imad Othman, was observed in the presence of Ghazi Zaaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil — two men he was supposed to be issuing arrest warrants against but did nothing instead,” she said.

“My father deserves better than this, and we, as his family, as Lebanese citizens, and as those affected by the blast, deserve to know who did this to us and why. I would not want it to happen to anyone. Nobody deserves to live through this kind of pain.”


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Despairing and demoralized, survivors and the families of victims have turned to courts outside Lebanon in pursuit of justice.

Alongside local and international organizations, they have called on the UN Human Rights Council to put forward a resolution at its upcoming session in September to create an independent and impartial “fact-finding mission” to get to the bottom of the matter.

It is hoped that such an investigation will record the facts, assess the aftermath, determine the root causes of the explosion and establish individual responsibility.

“We’ve been working with the victims and survivors since September 2020 on this request,” Antonia Mulvey, executive director of Legal Action Worldwide and power of attorney for a number of blast survivors, told Arab News. 



“While a domestic investigation is preferable, we understand that the system in Lebanon is very flawed and is incapable of delivering truth when it entails standing up to senior members of government.

“If the resolution is passed, UN members can be deployed on a time-bound mission of one year to support and assist the criminal investigation. The only thing blocking the resolution from passing is France and we cannot work out why.

Mulvey believes that French President Emmanuel Macron’s statements and visit to Lebanon following the blast have, paradoxically, become an impediment to the delivery of justice.

French President Emmanuel Macron (C), surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut on August 6, 2020, two days after a massive explosion. (AFP)

After arriving in Lebanon just two days after the explosion, Macron said that “an international, open and transparent probe is needed to prevent things from remaining hidden and doubt from creeping in.”

Many hoped that this call signaled a shift from the traditional French policy of propping up Lebanon’s political class. But now they fear the politicians have been thrown a lifeline by Macron’s “road map” toward reform.

Critics of French actions at the UN Human Rights Council say they stand in stark contrast to the commitments Macron made to the port blast victims.

Mulvey says the situation is intolerable because the slow pace of justice is compounding the grief of the survivors and the families of the victims.

Injured people are treated at a hospital in Beirut following an explosion near the capital city's on August 4, 2020. (AFP)

“One hundred and twenty survivors and victims describe to me how every day is like torture to them. They can’t move on but have no choice but to move forward, particularly those who lost their children,” she said.

“The memorial coming up doesn’t make much of a difference when every day is difficult. We have allegations against senior government and security officials. We must have hope and fight for this. If we don’t, we will still be looking at the same situation 20 and 30 years down the line.”

Another lawsuit has been filed in the US state of Texas by nine Lebanese American plaintiffs and relatives of victims of the blast.

Seeking $250 million in compensation, the lawsuit, launched by the Swiss foundation Accountability Now, was filed against US-Norwegian firms, such as TGS, which are suspected of being involved in bringing the explosive materials to the port.

Support groups for victims of the Beirut Port blast of Aug. 4, 2020 are taking legal actions against everyone responsible, including Lebanese politicians who have been trying muzzle judicial proceedings. (HRW photo)

“This lawsuit will help circumvent the muzzling of the Lebanese judiciary,” Zena Wakim, co-counsel to the plaintiffs and board president of Accountability Now, told Arab News.

“Through the powerful tool of discovery, the victims will unveil the network of corruption that made the blast possible. The politicians have filed removal requests against the judges who could have ruled over their motions to dismiss. They filed a claim against the Lebanese state for gross negligence of Judge Bitar,” effectively freezing the proceedings.

Wakim added: “Although the victims had all recognized the need to give the Lebanese judiciary a chance, they have now come to the conclusion that justice will never happen in Lebanon. Justice needs to be sought elsewhere, in any other possible jurisdiction, through whatever available legal avenues.”

The disregard shown by Lebanese authorities toward survivors and the families of victims manifests not only in the efforts to impede the investigation. Hasrouty recalls the struggle of trying to locate her father’s body, which took almost two weeks after the blast.

After several days, the Lebanese Army called off the search for Ghassan Hasrouty’s remains and those of other people lost in the rubble.

Tatiana Hasrouty and her father Ghassan who died in the blast. (Supplied)

“Nobody talked about them, the people who worked at the silos. The authorities did not want to search for them until we pressured them to,” Tatiana Hasrouty told Arab News.

“My brother was provided maps by my father’s colleagues who survived, and they worked day in, day out, trying to locate the bodies.

“We used to go to the port every day waiting for some news and to visit every hospital. On Aug. 18, my brother got the only official call saying that his DNA matched a body that was found. My father and six of his colleagues were under the rubble of the silos.”


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Libya’s eastern government postpones Derna reconstruction conference

Updated 01 October 2023

Libya’s eastern government postpones Derna reconstruction conference

BENGHAZI: Libya’s eastern authorities on Sunday announced the postponement of a reconstruction conference for the flood-hit city of Derna that had been planned for October 10 but was met with international skepticism.
The conference was put off until November 1-2 to “give companies and design offices the necessary time to prepare their projects,” the committee charged with planning the meeting said in a statement.

Yemen’s state-run airline suspends only route out of Sanaa over Houthi restrictions on its funds

Updated 01 October 2023

Yemen’s state-run airline suspends only route out of Sanaa over Houthi restrictions on its funds

  • Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa to the Jordanian capital of Amman
  • Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country

CAIRO: Yemen’s state-run carrier has suspended the only air route out of the country’s rebel-held capital to protest Houthi restrictions on its funds, officials said Sunday.
Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa’s international airport to the Jordanian capital of Amman. The airline had been operating six commercial and humanitarian flights a week between Sanaa and Amman as of the end of September.
The Sanaa-Amman air route was reintroduced last year as part of a UN-brokered cease-fire between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government. The cease-fire agreement expired in October 2022, but the warring factions refrained from taking measures that would lead to a flare-up of all-out fighting.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the government into exile.
The airline blamed the Iranian-backed Houthis for the move because they were withholding $80 million in the company’s funds in Houthi-controlled banks in Sanaa. It said in a statement on Saturday that the rebels rejected a proposal to release 70 percent of the funds. The statement said the airline’s sales in Sanaa exceed 70 percent of its revenues.
The statement said the Houthi ban on the funds was linked to “illegal and unreasonable demands, and caused severe damage to the airline’s activities.”
The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency quoted an unnamed source condemning the airline’s move. The source was quoted as saying that the rebels offered to release 60 percent of the airline’s funds in Sanaa.
Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country. The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
The dispute between the Houthis and the national airline comes as the rebels and Saudi Arabia have appeared close to a peace agreement in recent months. Saudi Arabia received a Houthi delegation last month for peace talks, saying the negotiations had “positive results.”
The Saudi-Houthi efforts, however, were overshadowed by an attack blamed on the Houthis last week that killed four Bahraini troops who were part of a coalition force patrolling Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
The Houthis, meanwhile, barred four activists from the Mwatana for Human Rights group from boarding their flight at Sanaa airport on Saturday “without providing legal justification,” group said.
It said that Houthi officials interrogated Mwatana’s chairperson Radhya Al-Mutawakel, her deputy and three other members before telling them that they were barred from travel according to “higher orders.”
A spokesman for the rebels was not immediately available for comment.
Mwatana said the ban was “just one episode in a long series of violations” by the rebels at the Sanaa airport on land routes linking rebel-held areas with other parts of Yemen.
The rebels also rounded up dozens of people who took to the streets last month in the Houthi-held areas, including Sanaa, to commemorate the anniversary of Yemen’s Sep. 26 revolution, which marks the establishment of Yemen’s republic in 1962, Amnesty International said.
“It is outrageous that demonstrators commemorating a national historical moment found themselves attacked, arrested, and facing charges simply because they were waving flags,” Amnesty said, and called on Houthis to immediately release those detained.

Turkiye says terrorists set off bomb at Ankara government building

Updated 01 October 2023

Turkiye says terrorists set off bomb at Ankara government building

  • Blast was the first in Ankara since 2016, and comes on the day that parliament was set to open a new session.

ANKARA: Turkiye’s government said on Sunday two terrorists carried out a bomb attack in front of the Interior Ministry buildings in Ankara, adding one of them died in the explosion and the other was “neutralized” by authorities there.

An explosion was heard near the parliament and ministerial buildings, Turkish media had earlier reported, and broadcasters showed footage of debris scattered on a street nearby.

The blast was the first in Ankara since 2016, and comes on the day that parliament was set to open a new session.

Reuters footage showed soldiers, ambulances, fire trucks and armored vehicles gathered at the ministry near the center of Turkiye’s capital.

Ali Yerlikaya, the interior minister, said on social media platform X that two police officers were slightly injured in the incident at 9:30 a.m. (0630 GMT).

“Two terrorists came with a light commercial vehicle in front of the entrance gate of the General Directorate of Security of our Ministry of Internal Affairs and carried out a bomb attack,” he said.

He added that one blew himself up and the other was “neutralized,” which usually means was killed. “Our struggle will continue until the last terrorist is neutralized,” Yerlikaya wrote.

Police also announced they would carry out controlled explosions for “suspicious package incidents” in other parts of Ankara.

Authorities did not identify any specific militant group.

The blast comes almost a year after six people were killed and 81 wounded in an explosion in a busy pedestrian street in central Istanbul. Turkiye blamed Kurdish militants for that.

During a spate of violence in 2015 and 2016, Kurdish militants, Islamic State and other groups either claimed or were blamed for several attacks in major Turkish cities. In March 2016, 37 people were killed in Ankara when a bomb-laden car exploded at a crowded central transport hub.

Ankara’s chief prosecutor launched an investigation on Sunday into what it also called a terrorist attack.

President Tayyip Erdogan was set at 7:30 p.m. to attend the opening of parliament, which in the coming weeks is expected to consider ratifying Sweden’s bid to join NATO after Turkiye had raised initial objections.

Turkish media reported that authorities were carrying out checks of the parliament after the blast at the ministry. A source said that the entrance was open but no cars were allowed through as part of the precautions.

Dozens arrested as protesters mark Iran’s ‘Bloody Friday’: Activists

Updated 01 October 2023

Dozens arrested as protesters mark Iran’s ‘Bloody Friday’: Activists

  • The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year

PARIS: Iranian security forces made dozens of arrests Saturday as protesters in the southeast commemorated the killing of dozens of demonstrators in the region one year ago, human rights groups said.
At least 104 people were killed, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO, in what is known as “Bloody Friday,” when security forces fired on a protest in Zahedan, the main city of Sistan-Baluchistan province, on September 30 last year.
The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year.
The Zahedan protests were triggered by reports a teenage girl had been raped in custody by a police commander and took place in parallel to nationwide demonstrations sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.
Activists have long complained that the ethnic Baluch population in Sistan-Baluchistan, who adhere to Sunni Islam not the Shiite branch of the faith dominant in Iran, suffer from discrimination.
Security forces fired tear gas and live rounds for a second straight day to disperse protesters who turned out in Zahedan to mark the anniversary, the Baluch-focused rights group Haalvsh said.
Throughout Saturday, businesses in Zahedan and other towns observed a general strike, it said, adding that “dozens” of people had been arrested.
The group posted footage with the sound of gunfire clearly audible amid a heavy security presence in the city.
Security forces had already used live fire to disperse protesters on Friday, wounding at least 25 people, including children, according to the Baloch Activists Campaign group. There was no immediate word on any casualties in Saturday’s unrest.
Even as the protest movement dwindled elsewhere in Iran, residents of Zahedan have held regular Friday protests throughout the past 12 months.
The city’s Friday prayer leader, Molavi Abdolhamid, who has been outspoken in his support of the protests over the past year, issued a new call for justice over “Bloody Friday,” telling the faithful to “know your rights.”
Footage posted on social media on Friday showed chaotic scenes as hospitals filled with injured, including children, while people on the streets sought to escape to safety amid the sound of heavy gunfire.
IHR said that the protests in Zahedan and other cities were again “brutally crushed” with authorities using “live ammunition, pellet bullets and tear gas against unarmed protesters.”
The executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, condemned the “horrifying display of indiscriminate violence... as the state attempts to suppress peaceful demonstrations.”
“It is imperative for the international community to shine a spotlight on this violence and to hold Iranian officials accountable in international courts, invoking the principle of international jurisdiction,” he said.

No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict

Updated 01 October 2023

No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict

  • South Sudan is no stranger to humanitarian crisis, having had its own share since achieving statehood in 2011
  • Experts say the country is in no position to handle the large and sudden influx of displaced people from Sudan

NAIROBI: Civilians displaced by the conflict in Sudan have sought sanctuary in the world’s youngest country next door, the Republic of South Sudan, only to face a daunting new set of challenges.

An estimated 250,000 people — including a large number of South Sudanese who had been living in Sudan — have crossed the border since fighting erupted in Sudan in April, with many now housed in overcrowded camps lacking food, sanitation and basic healthcare services.

High malnutrition rates and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and measles among the new arrivals testify to the dire health conditions, which aid agencies operating in the area say is one of the many serious causes for concern.

Luggage is transported on a donkey-drawn cart at Sudan’s Qalabat border crossing with Ethiopia on July 31, 2023 amid fighting between the Sudan armed forces and paramilitary RSF. (AFP file photo)

The UN has given warning that the number of people fleeing Sudan could double by the end of the year unless a settlement between the warring parties is reached soon.

Aside from being unprepared to absorb this tide of humanity in search of shelter and sustenance, South Sudan’s own political and economic shortcomings render it an ineffective broker in ending the conflict in Sudan.

This is despite the mediation efforts of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who recently hosted Sudan’s de-facto leader and head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in the capital Juba.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, right, welcomes Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council and Sudan’s armed force chief, in Juba, South Sudan, on Sept. 04, 2023. (Handout photo via Getty Images)

South Sudan is no stranger to hardship and adversity, having had its fair share of conflicts since gaining independence in 2011. Like its northern neighbor, from which it seceded, South Sudan is also grappling with political volatility and ethnic strife.

Add to the mix South Sudan’s limited resources and rudimentary infrastructure, and the country is in no position to handle such a large and sudden influx of impoverished people.

“The majority of these refugees are women, children, and young adults, with a notable concentration of youth between the ages of 12 and 22,” John Dabi, South Sudan’s deputy commissioner for refugee affairs, told Arab News.


250,000 Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese returnees who have crossed the border since the conflict began.

5 million Total number of people uprooted by the conflict, including 1 million who have fled to neighboring countries.

7,500 People killed since the onset of violence, according to conservative estimates of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Particularly, Juba and the border town of Renk have come under pressure from a sudden explosion in population, which has led to an acute shortage of basic necessities, including food, medicine and shelter.

Then there is the impact of a fickle climate, as South Sudan’s rainy season leads to the flooding of entire districts and turns roads into impassable mud tracks, hindering aid deliveries and access to remote refugee camps.

Predictably, South Sudan’s economy is a shambles, despite the recent launch of the National Economic Conference, which is meant to accelerate development.

A boy walks at a camp for displaced persons in Bentiu, South Sudan. (AFP file photo)

Firas Raad, the World Bank representative in South Sudan, recently urged the government to strive for more stable macroeconomic conditions, robust public financial management, and effective governance reforms to improve conditions for its people.

The parlous state of the country’s economy calls into question Juba’s credibility as a mediator in Sudan’s conflict, Suzanne Jambo, a South Sudanese policy analyst and former government adviser, told Arab News.

“South Sudan still struggles to achieve a stable transition to a permanent status, including a unified army, agreed-upon constitutional arrangements, and fairly elected representatives, not to mention conducting the elections,” she said.

Instability in South Sudan is not just attributable to issues of governance and economics. The ethnic and tribal spillovers of the Sudanese conflict are all too evident, with millions fleeing to neighboring countries and exposing the political divisions within Sudan and along its porous borders.

For instance, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group has been recruiting fighters from among Darfur’s Arab tribes.

Internally displaced women fetch water from a well in Bentiu in South Sudan. (AFP file photo)

Given the possibility of further escalation of ethnic tensions, experts believe coordinated efforts are essential for the proper distribution of humanitarian aid as well as conflict prevention and resolution strategies.

Sudanese civilians arriving in South Sudan represent a mosaic of backgrounds mirroring the country’s ethnic, racial and religious diversity. To minimize the chances of inter-communal violence, separate settlements, rather than traditional refugee camps, have been established.

“A critical aspect of managing the refugee crisis is preventing inter-community conflicts,” said Dabi, the deputy commissioner for refugee affairs. However, the most pressing issue facing displaced Sudanese in South Sudan is the scarcity of essential resources, he added.

The situation of people who crossed over from Sudan into other neighboring countries appears to be equally dire.

In Chad, where more than 400,000 people have fled the violence in Darfur, aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres says the situation has become so desperate that “people are feeding their children on insects, grass, and leaves.”

People wait next to passenger buses as smoke billows in an area in Khartoum where fighting between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary forces continues to this day. (AFP file photo)

Amid severe shortages, “some have gone five weeks without receiving food,” Susana Borges, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Adre, said in a statement. Camps also lack water, sanitation, shelter, and medical care.

“The most urgent health needs we are dealing with are malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition,” Borges added. According to the UN, dozens of children under the age of five have already died of malnutrition in Chadian camps.

The conflict in Sudan, now in its fifth month, was triggered by a plan to incorporate the RSF into the SAF.

On April 15 a long-running power struggle between the Al-Burhan and his former deputy, RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, suddenly escalated, prompting the evacuation of foreign nationals and embassy staff.

At least 7,500 people have been killed since the conflict began, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, and the troubled western Darfur region, where the worst of the violence has been taking place, have seen “intensified shelling” as the SAF and the RSF target each other’s bases with “artillery and rocket fire.”

Black smoke billows behind buildings amid ongoing fighting in Khartoum. (AFP)

In central Khartoum, the SAF controls the skies and has carried out regular air strikes, while RSF fighters dominate the streets.

In South Darfur’s regional capital, Nyala, residents say fighter jets have been targeting “RSF leadership.” However, reports from the ground suggest civilians are routinely caught in the crossfire.

UN figures show the fighting has uprooted more than five million people from their homes, including one million who have crossed international borders into neighboring countries.

Over the weekend, a cholera outbreak was reported in eastern Sudan and investigations launched to check whether it had spread to Khartoum and South Kordofan state.

A street vendor sells shoes and slippers in Port Sudan, Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2023. (REUTERS)

The conflict has also seen a surge in gender-based violence, as confirmed by numerous credible reports of rape, human trafficking, and increase in early marriage.

Despite multiple diplomatic efforts to broker a truce, the conflict has continued and intensified, leaving those displaced with little prospect of returning to their homes any time soon.

As South Sudan struggles to accommodate its own citizens previously living in Sudan, a recent visit to the country by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, suggests the international community is taking notice.

However, Peter Van der Auweraert, the UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, has cautioned there could be a significant decline in humanitarian assistance for the country next year.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says humanitarian aid organizations are struggling to meet the needs of the displaced, with only 19 percent of the $1 billion requested from donors so far received.