THE world's newest nation, South Sudan, has avoided a famine on
a technicality. But its people are still suffering from a lack of
food and the results of a protracted political deadlock, aid
workers have said.
Fighting between opposing factions led by the President and
Vice-president broke out last December. To date, it has displaced
1.5 million civilians from their homes and livelihoods. Fears of a
widespread famine have eased, however, after good rainfall in
Florence Mawanda, who works for Christian Aid in the capital,
Juba, said on Tuesday that, despite the welcome rain, thousands of
South Sudanese had not been able to plant crops, because they are
refugees from the conflict.
"There is still a lot of military activity around the greater
Upper Nile [region]," she said. "It's not possible to feed people
out there. It is very challenging in the field and it needs to get
For a famine to be declared, at least 20 per cent of a
population must have access to less than 2100 calories a day; acute
malnutrition must exceed 30 per cent of children; and the death
rate must exceed two deaths in 10,000 people a day.
Tearfund's head of humanitarian support, Oenone Chadburn,
recently returned to the UK from South Sudan. The "wolves were at
the door" for many people there, she said. "We don't believe this
is a turn-around, it is only a respite.
"When the mass displacement happened last December, what was
used up were the stocks of reserves people had. The fact that
people have not been able to return to their land and cultivate
this year has proved quite problematic."
Ms Chadburn said that Tearfund was running feeding centres in
some of the areas still troubled by violence, but all the food had
to be flown in because the market networks had broken down.
"We have seen a doubling of the numbers attending these feeding
centres," she said.
"Alternative sources of employment have all dried up because of
the conflict. But even if there was supplementary income, there is
nothing in the markets anyway."
Last week, experts from the UN and aid agencies said that food
security had begun to improve across South Sudan, but that it would
worsen again if the political situation was not resolved.
Ms Mawanda said: "The fighting is concentrated in the north-east
part of the country, although the tension between ethnic groups
continues. We hope for the best. There is a chasm between those in
government and those who are trying to eke out a living in South
Ms Chadburn said that Tearfund was encouraged by the ongoing
negotiations, and that only small pockets of fighting continued.
Besides providing food, Tearfund is also supporting a small church
outside Juba, which has established a camp for internal refugees.
Ms Chadburn described how the conflict had affected one woman in
the camp, 37-year-old Bibiana Akongo, after fighting broke out in
her home town of Malakal on New Year's Eve.
"The fighting was so fierce, she was trapped in her home with
eight children for four days. Her husband was a soldier, and he was
killed. Then, armed men came into her house and shot her oldest
son, who was 17, in front of the family. Her youngest, aged nine
months, happened to get a shrapnel wound in her leg."
Ms Akongo managed to escape the slaughter on a UN evacuation
flight, with just the clothes on her back. At the camp, she was
given tarpaulin and corrugated iron to make a shelter, and a food
kit to help her grow some crops to eat. Her child is still
recovering from her injuries.
Ms Chadburn said that trauma such as this would take years to
heal. "They have got decades of a civil war with Sudan to heal
from, too. There were so many hopes and aspirations for a new South
Sudan three years ago, but they are going through some growing
Church leaders have been central in attempts to reconcile the
warring factions in South Sudan, Ms Mawanda said. "They are telling
people: 'It is time for development, we have had enough of