SIX million people in South Sudan have been facing crisis levels of hunger, including 47,000 who are enduring famine, the United Nations warned last week.
Despite a peace agreement signed during the summer (News, 14 September), millions of civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict, which is estimated to have killed nearly 190,000 people.
The UN reports that one in two people do not know where their next meal is coming from; 40 per cent of the entire population is displaced in and outside of the country; two out of three pregnant or breastfeeding women suffer from acute nutritional deficiencies; more than two million children are out of school; and only one in ten people has access to basic sanitation.
The latest figures were published as Anglican leaders spoke of the possibility of the return of exiles.
The Bishop of Kajo-Keji, the Rt Revd Emmanuel Murye, said that many South Sudanese in refugee camps were “overwhelmed with the news regarding the long-awaited peace. They thank God for the ongoing peace talks, and pray to God for the final signing of permanent peace so that they can go home.
“Others have mixed feelings as to whether what was signed in Khartoum will lead to the permanent peace. These doubts arise due to bad memories of the past. In our pastoral visits, we do encourage the refugees to have faith and hope and continue to pray, so that we can go and rebuild our nation which has been so damaged by the war.”
More than 90 per cent of the population of the diocese has been forced into Uganda during the conflict. The return of displaced people is one of the potential pressure-points in the latest IPC report by the Food and Agricultural Organization for the UN.
“Of greatest concern are counties where harvests are likely to be poor; access to humanitarian assistance may be limited for a section of the population; possible returns from within and outside of the country may cause further pressure on already scarce resources; insecurity, lack of freedom of movement, and extreme depletion of livelihoods prevails,” the report says.
“As a result, extreme levels of acute food insecurity are expected to persist in many areas. This calls for immediate and unhindered provision of humanitarian assistance and close monitoring.”
It highlighted that large-scale humanitarian food aid had prevented more catastrophic outcomes, and called for a scaling-up of assistance. Last month, the World Food Programme showed how it had been able to “deliver against all odds in South Sudan”. It reached nearly 5.5 million out of six million people, despite the fact that the country has only 300 km of built roads across the country.
This week, the World Council of Churches called for the peace agreement to be upheld. “The roots of the conflict must be addressed, honestly and transparently, and there must be all-inclusive and impartial dialogue,” its action plan for peace said. “Acknowledging the past, and apologizing for the suffering of victims, is a step towards healing, even for those who have committed or suffered terrible atrocities. It enables those who have been wronged look towards the future rather than dwell in the past; to decide against revenge and anger.”
Last month, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published a study which estimated that it was likely that the conflict in South Sudan had led to more than 380,000 excess deaths since 2013. About half of the deaths — almost 190,000 — were owing to violent injuries.
Most of the death toll occurred in the north-east and southern regions of the country, and appeared to peak in 2016 and 2017. Those killed were mostly adult males, but also included women and children.
UN hears Darfur update. Last month, a fringe event at the UN General Assembly’s annual general debate heard that the situation in Darfur was improving, after investment of $16 billion in peacekeeping over the past ten years.
“In the Darfur of today, we see intermittent clashes in the mountains of the Jebel Marra, but violent conflict has subsided,” the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Amina Mohammed, said. “Outside of that zone, fighting has largely ended, and intercommunal clashes have been considerably reduced. . . This is a significant achievement and a clear expression that our goal of silencing the guns in Africa can be a reality.”