FAMINE has been formally declared in Unity State, South Sudan: it is the first in the world since 2011.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has called on the Church to pray for peace, as aid agencies warn of a narrow window during which aid can be delivered before the rainy season.
On Monday, the UN reported that war and a “collapsing economy” had left 100,000 people facing starvation. A further one million people are classified as being on the brink of famine. The declaration means that people have already started dying of hunger.
More than 40 per cent of the population — 4.9 million people — are in need of food assistance, a figure expected to rise to 5.5 million in July if nothing is done to address the crisis. More than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished.
“If we do not reach these children with urgent aid, many of them will die,” the UNICEF representative in South Sudan, Jeremy Hopkins, said.
“There is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve,” the country director of the World Food Programme, Joyce Luma, said. The famine was “man-made”.
A UN official told Al Jazeera this week that government officials had blocked or placed constraints on the delivery of food aid to areas of the country. This week, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, promised “that all humanitarian and development organisations have unimpeded access to needy populations across the country”.
The crisis was “utterly preventable”, Christian Aid’s South Sudan country manager, Rosie Crowther, said. “The situation will continue to deteriorate rapidly if we don’t act now. We can, and must, do more.” The charity has issued an urgent appeal for funds.
The manager of SUDRA, the relief and development arm of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, the Revd Joseph El Haj, said this week that in Yei and Kajo Keji, in the south of the country, many people had left their homes and harvests and moved to Uganda. “If there is no room for peace, then famine is close,” he warned.
Three years of fighting, which has escalated since July, have thwarted agricultural production in South Sudan. Prices have increased by up to 800 per cent, year on year.
“We stand prayerfully alongside the South Sudanese people and their leaders — particularly those in the Church who are providing emotional, physical, and spiritual support,” Archbishop Welby said on Monday. “We pray for those on the ground who are delivering humanitarian assistance, that there will be an opening up of humanitarian corridors for the aid that is so desperately needed.”
He applauded the efforts of churches that were working together to provide assistance, and urged the Church to join him in praying for peace, security, relief, and “for the Holy Spirit to comfort those who need it most”.
This month, the UN and aid organisations joined to launch a $1.6-billion appeal for South Sudan. Once the rainy season begins in May, most roads will be rendered impassable, necessitating expensive air drops.
“We have a small and rapidly closing window of opportunity to get food into these remote areas, to pre-position it, before it is too late,” the national director for World Vision in South Sudan, Perry Mansfield, said. Tear Fund reports that many households are relying primarily on fish and wild foods to survive.
The Methodist Church has also launched an appeal through All We Can, its relief agency that works with partners on the ground.
Drought is afflicting swaths of East Africa, where prices have soared to high levels. The DfID reports that there is a “credible risk” of another three famines in Yemen, north east Nigeria and Somalia. On Tuesday, it announced extra funding of £200 million for Somalia, and South Sudan, to save more than a million lives.
Bishop prays for a miracle as hunger stalks his people THE food crisis in South Sudan, a country blessed with fertile land, is "human-imposed", the Bishop of Yei, the Rt Revd Hilary Adeba, said this week. Starvation was "imminent", he warned.
The diocese, near the border with Uganda, covers areas singled out by the South Sudan IPC Technical Working Group as being 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 on Thursday. "This means 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 un-armed 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 over into Uganda and the DRC. "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." It was civilians who suffered he said, their only "mistake" the fact that they "just happened to be where their ancestors used to live".
It was difficult for aid to be delivered in the region, he said, because the 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.
"The whole of Greater Equatoria region lies on the southern plains of South Sudan, well drained by rivers that originate from the famous Nile - Congo water divide," he explained. "This region is made up of alluvial soils, fertile in nature and potentially excellent for agriculture. To the south are huge equatorial rain forests and in the middle belt are open savannah grasslands, receiving eight months of ample rainfall, allowing two crops to be planted consecutively. There has been no history of famine among the populations."
He continued: "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. The majority of the Church today is in the rural areas cut off completely from the centers of evangelism. The Church has been, and will remain, vocal in telling the truth to the world during this trying time in our history. The Church has been raising awareness on the issue of humanitarian aid and has launched its blanket appeal to the world, the UN agencies and partners around the world. Today, there is dire need for food not only in towns like Yei but also in the rural areas where the population can no longer be allowed to produce food."
His forecast is grim.
"Unless a miracle happens to stop the war, and people encouraged to return to their livelihoods, the situation and the future is bleak," he said. "It may be South Sudan is collapsing."
Flying spirit: the Revd Peter Marshall with Bishop Peni in the UK, in December 2015
Credit: PETER MARSHALL
Flying spirit: the Revd Peter Marshall with Bishop Peni in the UK, in December 2015
Education-fund raised. A RETIRED priest in Wales has raised £1000 to evacuate a South Sudanese bishop and his five children to Uganda.
The Priest, the Revd Peter Marshall, who lives in Llandudno, expects the Bishop of Nzara, the Rt Revd Samuel Peni, to fly to Kampala this week. Bishop Nzara and five of his seven children are currently in Juba. They have been waiting since early December to leave for Kampala, amid rising violence in South Sudan. A plan to send them by bus was abandoned after a bus travelling the same route was attacked, and passengers killed.
Mr Marshall raised £1000 to fly the children and their father, including gathering £250 from the congregation at St Katherine’s, Bryn Pydew. He first met Bishop Peni at a meeting of the Sudan Church Association in London in 2005, when the latter was a young priest. While they were at the meeting, Bishop Peni learnt that his son Daniel, a toddler, had been severely burned in an accident. Mr Marshall arranged for the Mission Aviation Fellowship to transport the child to a burns unit in Kampala.
The two men stayed in touch: Mr Marshall travelled annually to South Sudan, to train clergy and support the Church. He described Bishop Peni this week as an “outstanding person” and a “future Archbishop”. Bishop Peni is chairing the Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Commission in South Sudan, and has also dealt with violence from the Lord’s Resistance Army in his diocese. He has sent three people to train to get degrees in community development in Rwanda; Mr Marshall has helped to fund this.
This month, the UN described South Sudan as the largest refugee crisis in Africa. More than 3.5 million people have been displaced within and outside the borders of South Sudan, and thousands more are driven to neighbouring countries every day. Uganda is currently hosting almost 700,000.
Life continues in South Sudan, Mr Marshall said. Bishop Peni had recently complained that there were “only” 200 confirmations during the Christmas period.
“The birth of God’s Church is going on through all this trauma,” Mr Marshall said.