THE Primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, the Most Revd Justin Badi Arama, has condemned the violence in the country’s Jonglei state after 280 civilians and three aid workers were left dead last week.
On Wednesday of last week, Archbishop Arama called on the South Sudanese government to intervene in the clashes between ethnic groups, writing in a pastoral letter that it needed to “finalise the formation of state governments in order to handle the emerging violent situations at the grassroots level”.
A fresh wave of violence broke out in South Sudan in mid-May, when members of the Murle ethnic group attacked villages of the ethnic group Lou Nuer, in the north of Jonglei, in retaliation for an attack on the Murle in February. The absence of functioning local governments has meant that little has been done by the authorities about the spate of revenge killings. As well as the civilian deaths, the violence in May led to the deaths of a staff member from Médecins Sans Frontières and two aid workers from a local NGO.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said that the ability of medical personnel to treat those affected by the violence has been severely compromised as a result of Covid-19. So far this year, the charity’s personnel have treated 320 gunshot wounds — nearly half the number treated in 2019 (729); surgical capacity has been reduced by 30 per cent, however, owing to the need to follow physical-distancing measures in the wards. This means fewer hospital beds, and wards’ operating close to capacity.
The ICRC’s head of delegation in South Sudan, James Reynolds, said: “If we see the same level of violence that we saw in 2019, we can expect a greater loss of life and deeper suffering, as Covid-19 hampers our ability to respond.
“If Covid-19 continues to spread and overwhelms South Sudan’s already fragile health system, the capacity to treat gunshot injuries will be even lower. Many health-care facilities are also dealing with spikes in diseases, such as malaria, that are brought on by the rainy season.”
The World Council of Churches had urged South Sudan last month to “take proper measures” to protect people from the coronavirus. “In the absence of effective local governance and co-ordination of the pandemic response, the virus will proliferate,” it warned (News, 3 April).
Archbishop Arama counselled the country’s Christians to maintain hope during this period: “The time will come when God will bring this pandemic to an end and we will welcome you back to give thanks to God and continue with our normal worship and fellowship.”
Tearfund’s country director in South Sudan, Anthony Rama, said: “We are deeply saddened by the recent deaths, and express our condolences to all those affected. Intercommunal conflict disrupts life-saving efforts for people who are already desperate. All parties and communities must step up efforts at a local and national level to end this cycle of violence and deliver sustainable peace for the people of South Sudan.”