THE Bishop of Yei, South Sudan, the Rt Revd Hilary Adeba, has warned that starvation is “imminent” in his diocese, where food is being used as a weapon.
The diocese, near the border with Uganda, covers areas singled out by the South Sudan IPC Technical Working Group as among the worst-affected by food shortages. Bishop Adeba described how an escalating conflict had prevented the planting of crops, and how both the military and armed groups were blocking the delivery of food.
“The last year’s harvest was not gathered, and in some places the harvest was entirely looted,” he said last month. “This means that, by the end of 2016, the food gap had already become wide both in the towns and in the rural areas. The first planting in 2017 will be missed out as the rains approach. So this year presents a bleak picture, and death from starvation is imminent.”
The security situation had worsened in the past seven months, he said. “This has led to the killing of innocent unarmed civilians, raping of women and girls, looting of entire properties of the civilians, such as grains, cattle, goats, chicken, solar panels and batteries, TVs, mattresses, money, and literally everything. This in most cases is followed by setting on fire all dwelling places, including churches.”
People were fleeing for their lives, he said, and crossing into Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “The military do not stop there, but pursue the people even deep into the bushes where, like in Yei, shooting and raping of women and girls continue unabated.”
Last month, the Bishop of Lomega, the Rt Revd Paul Yugusuk, accused government forces of raping women and young girls, as well as of detaining men in a village near the capital, Juba. Last Friday, the military announced that three government solders were to be charged with rape and one with dereliction of duty, after a fourth suspect escaped.
In a letter sent last month and seen by the AP news agency, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said that UN peacekeepers had been prevented from verifying allegations of killings or arbitrary arrests of civilians, in the town of Yei and elsewhere.
The UN has also spoken out against obstacles to the delivery of aid. Bishop Adeba said that roads leading into urban areas were closed by both the Government forces and armed groups. “Food is being used as a weapon by both sides and hence they do not want it to reach their enemies.”
The area was once the “bread basket” of South Sudan, he said, with a surplus of food, from which the World Food Programme had purchased reserves. He agreed “absolutely” that the crisis was man-made. “It’s a human-imposed suffering among our people. They never begged for food, for money and for support from anywhere. Ours have been self-sustaining communities. The only thing we lack is peace that human beings do not want to give us.”
The Church had “stood firm”, he said, providing “emotional, moral, physical, and spiritual support to thousands stranded in the towns and those in the rural areas”.
His forecast is bleak. “Unless a miracle happens to stop the war, and people are encouraged to return to their livelihoods, the situation and the future is bleak,” he said. “It may be South Sudan is collapsing.”
Churches in the UK have urged their members to support humanitarian efforts. The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, has dedicated his Lent appeal to Christian Aid’s work in South Sudan. The Mothers’ Union is trying to raise £50,000 to help feed, clothe, and provide post-conflict trauma support for refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. An appeal has also been made by the Bishops of the Church of Ireland.