On the fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s deadly conflict, Christian Aid is renewing its appeal for urgent action to stem alarming levels of hunger and malnutrition in the country.
Ongoing violence and civil insecurity, which began on 15 December 2013, have crippled South Sudan’s economy, created catastrophic food shortages and forced 4 million people to abandon their homes.
The United Nations humanitarian chief has now warned that more than 1.2 million people in the country are "just one step away from famine". Food security experts predict that famine could occur in "multiple locations" in 2018.
With high-level peace talks set to start next week, progress towards sustainable peace is desperately needed to end the country’s humanitarian crisis, says Christian Aid, which is currently raising funds for South Sudan through its 2017 Christmas Appeal.
Christian Aid’s country manager for South Sudan, Jolly Kemigabo, said: “The anniversary on 15th December is a bitter and heart-breaking reminder of the cost of conflict on women, children and men. For four years, people have seen everything taken away from them: their relatives, their incomes, their homes, their hope.
“It is a tragedy that this crisis was man-made, and wholly preventable. Now, not only are millions of civilians critically short of food, but they are also living each day with the deep-rooted trauma of their experiences.
“At this time of year – the post-harvest season – families would ordinarily be in a relatively strong situation. Instead, many continue to face immense challenges, with 4.8 million people needing emergency food aid, and more than a million children under five suffering from acute malnutrition. The scale and severity of this crisis is beyond imagination.
“Thanks to the dedication of local and international agencies, localised famine was stopped in its tracks early in 2017. If we want to avoid a repeat of this situation, then we urgently need more funds to respond in 2018. We are appealing to the public to support Christian Aid’s Christmas appeal, so that we can help families in South Sudan who are on the brink of catastrophe.”
In Northern Ireland, for every pound the public gives to Christian Aid’s Christmas Appeal, the UK Government will also give a pound (on all donations made between 6th November 2017 and 5th February 2018, up to £5m). All the matched funds will go towards Christian Aid’s work in South Sudan.
The UK government has announced an additional £52 million humanitarian package for South Sudanese communities affected by conflict – including refugees and internally displaced people. This will provide shelter, education, food, medicine, clean water, malnutrition treatment and other support.
Chief Executive of Christian Aid Ireland, Rosamond Bennett, who recently travelled to the country, said: “In South Sudan, I witnessed intense poverty. In the villages I visited, people are eating just one meal a day, made with only one ingredient. After months and months of living like this, energy levels are low and many people, especially children, are suffering from malnutrition.
“Seeing how hungry and malnourished some of the babies are and then the pain in their mother’s faces, who know they have no food for them, was devastating. Some of the people told me that they know they won’t be here next spring. Recent heavy rains destroyed their crops, which they were depending on. They said: ‘Christmas is non-existent for us this year’.
“I listened to the concerns of many mothers. Most of them had not eaten at all on the day we met. It’s critical to note that aid is making a difference, but many more people are at risk of hunger. One women told me that she simply wouldn’t have survived without the emergency aid she received.”
Christian Aid’s local partners are providing humanitarian relief in some of the worst hit parts of South Sudan, directly benefiting over 23,000 people. This includes distributing food supplies, fishing kits, kitchen materials, mosquito nets, food vouchers and cash vouchers.
The charity's South Sudan country manager, Jolly Kemigabo, said: “This Christmas, we pay tribute to our staff and local partners in South Sudan for their courage and commitment. However, we cannot be complacent. Until the conflict is over, the hunger crisis will continue. That’s why Christian Aid and our partners will continue standing alongside South Sudanese communities, churches and leaders as, together, they work for sustainable peace and stability.”
The conflict first erupted in December 2013 after a political struggle between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar escalated along ethnic lines. Despite a peace agreement in August 2015, violence has continued.
Nearly 1.9 million people are displaced within South Sudan, having fled violent attacks and human rights abuses such as sexual violence and arbitrary killings. A further 2.1m South Sudanese citizens are refugees in other nations. Two million children are out of school.