November 27th, 2018
South Sudan on the Edge
Dozens of women lie outside on the floor, their children wrapped in blankets. The signs of malnutrition are clear: swollen bellies and emaciated limbs. Skin hanging in folds from tiny bones. Bodies covered in open sores – the painful result of edema breaking the skin -The New York Times reporting in May, 2018.
The world’s youngest and most fragile state has suffered under legacies of hunger and violence. With a death toll to rival conflicts in Syria or Iraq, the fastest-growing refugee emergency, and political and ethnic divides that continue to tear the nation apart, five years of war in South Sudan have also carried famine and the outbreak of disease. As a new threat arises, millions are at risk of starvation.
South Sudan’s states have felt the devastation of extreme hunger many times before. A single photo brought the world’s attention to the silent famine of 1993; Kevin Carter’s The Vulture and the Little Girl led to global outrage as it documented one of the most haunting stories of suffering in modern times. The post-independence years saw South Sudan descend again into famine in 2014 and 2017. Reporting from a clinic in Juba earlier this year, The New York Times investigated the nation’s ‘never-ending’ and war-inflicted hunger season, where findings suggested the year ahead would be the toughest yet.
The hospital ward, frequently dark because of intermittent electricity, is treating nearly a dozen more children each day than it did this time last year. They come from around the country to be weighed, measured and given antibiotics and a milk formula before moving on to Plumpy’Nut, a peanut-based nutritional paste — if their bodies can handle it.
South Sudan is slipping into catastrophe. As violence and suspicion continues to rage between warring factions, civilian populations are starving for no other reason than the action of men on both sides of a political and sectarian divide who are using food as a weapon of war. Disputed territories are being starved-out, the government’s scorched earth policies have turned fertile states into wastelands, and as final lifelines are brutally stolen by those fighting on either side of the conflict, many civilians are dying from starvation and sickness.
Equitoria, once known as the country’s breadbasket, is now described as a ghost region. Speaking to reporters, civilians in Lainya and Yei towns say they are living in a prison. Government forces have been blamed for stealing food and refusing residents access to their fields to harvest what little they could during the lean season. In October, government soldiers raided Lasona’s house, leaving him and his seven children with nothing to eat. “How can I ask soldiers with guns for my food back?”
A major inquiry has called for international law to put measures of protection in place for civilians who are trapped by hunger and violence in war zones like Syria, Yemen and South Sudan. As starvation is used as a weapon of war, nearly 600,000 children in these countries are expected to die from malnutrition and disease before the end of the year.
The inquiry has declared it is unconscionable that the global community does nothing while people are starving, and has criticised the culture of impunity relating to conflicts in countries like South Sudan, where the deaths of civilians are being strategised under siege warfare.
Almost half of South Sudan’s population depends on relief efforts and deliveries of aid. As the crisis heightens, the nation’s reputation as the most dangerous place to be an aid worker has made the challenge of distributing food and medicine “much worse” according to David Shearer, the head of the United Nations mission.
The African Development Bank’s pledge of $44 million to stop famine in South Sudan is being blocked by tactics of intimidation from rebel and government forces as reports predict that an intensifying pattern of violence against aid workers could push hundreds of thousands in disputed areas into famine before 2019.
In Wau, where HART’s South Sudan partners are based, every second person is going hungry. Tens of thousands of civilians have been forced into UN protection sites to escape conflict over rebel-held areas, where violent clashes are blocking humanitarian access and aid deliveries to the region. Donate to HART’s partners to help vulnerable people like those in Wau by following this link: https://www.hart-uk.org/donate/
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