South Sudan Crisis explained

9 March 2017

Fighting and severe drought in South Sudan have left millions in need of humanitarian assistance. These women have been picking leaves to feed to their families.

Fighting and severe drought in South Sudan have left millions in need of humanitarian assistance. These women have been picking leaves to feed to their families.

A famine has been declared in parts of South Sudan. The country is facing catastrophe, as severe drought and conflict have left millions of vulnerable people in need of humanitarian aid. We answer your questions about the crisis and our response.

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What has happened?

The conflict in South Sudan is entering its fourth year, and the UN World Food Programme warn that nearly 42 per cent of the country’s population - 4.9 million people - do not have enough food to eat. Two counties in Unity State are now experiencing famine, with 100,000 people affected. If there is nothing done to check the severity of the famine, it is feared that the number of people affected could rise to 5.5 million by July.

This time of year (January - April) in South Sudan, people are generally more secure due to higher food stocks and lower market prices, but the UN World Food Programme say that the risk of starvation is looming, especially for the most vulnerable communities.

Part of the reason for the growing food insecurity is due to the violence that has erupted in the Equatoria region, which is responsible for over half of South Sudan’s net cereal production. About 50 per cent of all harvests have been lost in areas affected by the violence. Many farmers have been unable to plant seeds for the second season due to armed conflict, displacement, and because the price of cereal has increased by more than 500 per cent in one year.

Eyewitness report  

CAFOD’s Head of Africa, Fergus Conmee, has just returned from South Sudan and gave this eyewitness report from a CAFOD emergency response programme in Yirol:

“Hunger is evident in the thinness of children, the blindness of many men and women, the way clothes hang from bodies of people already suffering and the weary looks of people who know that over the next six months, things are only going to get worse for them and their families.

“Everyone is hoping that rain will come in April and May so they might be able to plant crops to harvest in August. The people of Yirol want to do this – they don’t want to be reliant on food aid. CAFOD, working with the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek, will provide seeds and tools to enable people to plant crops in May. But to be able to plant crops, you need to be strong enough to till the land. It is usually the women that are responsible for agricultural cultivation (as well as fetching water, cooking, washing and childcare). Without food now, they will be too weak to plant.

“The CAFOD team in South Sudan is therefore making plans to provide emergency food rations to 12,000 people this month. But this will only meet a small part of the enormous needs.”

Failed peace deal

In December 2013, civil conflict erupted in South Sudan between forces loyal to then opposition leader Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir. In the ensuing months, tens of thousands of people lost their lives and more than two million people have been displaced from their homes.

In August 2015, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar signed a peace deal; however, by July 2016 the peace deal had stalled, and conflict and instability spread to previously unaffected areas in Greater Equatoria and Greater Bahr-El Ghazal regions.

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What are the main humanitarian needs?

This year, malnutrition and lack of food has reached the highest level since the outbreak of the conflict in December 2013. The UN estimates that 7.5 million people are in need of aid, and 5.8 million are facing hunger. UNHCR report that 1.9 million people are internally displaced and 1.5 million are refugees in neighbouring countries.

For the many people sheltering in UN and Church compounds there is a great need for food aid, clean water and sanitation. CAFOD’s Head of Africa, Fergus Conmee, said:

“As part of the Caritas network, CAFOD and Trocaire are already working with our local Church partners to try to get food, clean water, sanitation and emergency supplies to people sheltering in Church compounds.”

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Where is CAFOD working and what has been CAFOD’s emergency response before this latest outbreak?

Lake State: in Yirol East County, we are working with our local Caritas partner the Diocese of Rumbek providing food, clean water, sanitation and hygiene to displaced families and host communities.

Upper Nile States: in Maban and Nasir Counties State we work with the Catholic Development Office and Community Agribusiness Development Agency (CADA) supporting vulnerable families be more self-sufficient, and earn a sustainable living. The projects include distribution of seeds and tools, poultry production, bee keeping, improving goat breed.

Central Equatoria States: we work in Juba, Yei and Morobo with our partners Caritas Archdiocese of Juba and Caritas Diocese of Yei. Working on long-term livelihood projects such as poultry production, bee keeping, nutrition education, improving goat breeds, mainstreaming of HIV and AIDS, gender and disability.

Warrap State: in Gogrial West County we work with Daughter of Mary Immaculate Sisters, Justice and Peace Commission (Diocese of Wau), among others, in governance and peace-building programmes. The programmes include formation of peace committees, training of paralegals, training on conflict prevention and transformation, and training of women and young people on human rights and children's rights.

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What is the position of the Church with regard to this crisis? 

Church leaders from South Sudan have called on the international community to assist millions of people who are facing starvation in the country. Bishops from England and Wales have backed their call for peace and urgent action to alleviate suffering and save lives.

In a pastoral letter released by the South Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference on 23 February 2017, the Bishops said:

“Our country is gripped by a humanitarian crisis – famine, insecurity and economic hardship. Our people are struggling simply to survive. While there have been poor rains in many parts of the country, there is no doubt that this famine is man-made, due to insecurity and poor economic management.

“Millions of our people are affected, with large numbers displaced from their homes and many fleeing to neighbouring countries, where they are facing appalling hardships in refugee camps.”

The Bishops called on the international community “for immediate and unconditional concrete intervention and action before thousands of innocent lives are carried away and before it is too late.”

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Bishop William Kenney of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said:

“Having visited the country over the past few years, I commend the pastoral message from my brother Bishops in the South Sudan. The people of that country are suffering a brutal civil war, resulting in widespread violence, economic breakdown and famine. The world must wake up to this man-made humanitarian disaster. The violence must stop and the international community must intervene.

“Please remember the people of South Sudan in your prayers, support the famine relief and put pressure on our government to do their utmost to bring an end to the fighting.”

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Will CAFOD be responding to other parts of the East and Horn and Lake Chad Basin regions of Africa, affected by hunger and drought? 

CAFOD is responding to hunger and drought across the region.

Find out more about the crisis in East Africa and how CAFOD is responding

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