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South Sudan: A young country in crisis

Nearly five million South Sudanese face food shortages.

After a long struggle for independence, the Republic of South Sudan became the world’s youngest country in July 2011, a title it still claims. Its five-year history has been troubled by violence, with a civil war beginning in December 2013. In August 2015, an internationally-mediated peace agreement brought a tentative end to the fighting, which has resumed during July of this year, causing a humanitarian crisis. In a blog post on July 22, 2016, Hedd Thomas of World Renew identified Juba, Yei, Lainya and many other parts of Equatoria, a region in southern South Sudan, as being most affected by the recent disruptions to law and order.

In an interview with Christian Courier in early August 2016, World Vision Canada’s president Michael Messenger commented, “We’re deeply concerned with the situation.” In November 2015, Messenger visited South Sudan, calling it one of the most “fragile contexts” in which World Vision works: “It is one of the toughest places in the world that we work in terms of security, in terms of safety, and in terms of the ability to see long-term impact.”

When violence breaks out, the humanitarian community goes into lockdown, usually sheltering in place for a few days at a time so that the emergency response can begin as soon as possible. World Vision has a total of 719 staff and volunteers in South Sudan, 92 percent of whom are local staff. On Aug. 2, Messenger said, “The good news is that the ceasefire, while fragile, is holding, so programs are operational.”

Food security

Messenger noted that South Sudan is usually in the headlines when law and order break down, and that World Vision’s ongoing priority, along with other agencies such as the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, is mitigating the effects of the violence on the most vulnerable people, especially children and women, regardless of whether the country is in the news. He sees food security, along with clean water and health care, as a pressing issue: “The greatest need is really about hunger and malnutrition. Outbreaks of violence cause disruption to food supply and nutrition, and to the ability of families to feed their children.”

An increase in violence directly causes a decrease in food security. According to World Vision’s figures, 4.8 million South Sudanese people now face severe food shortages in the coming months, up from 4.3 million in April. The current situation represents the highest level of hunger since the conflict started in December 2013. Since January, more than 100,000 children have been treated for malnutrition, a 40 percent increase compared to the same period in 2015.

Emergency food distribution cannot be sustained over the long term, however. World Vision and World Renew, along with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, work on building resilience though agricultural programs, which are funded in part by the Canadian government. Farmers, many of whom are women, are working on increasing agricultural production near the capital, Juba.

Urgently needed items
1. Food
2. Blankets
3. Mosquito nets
This is a time when we must stand with the families who are most badly affected.
A gift of $58 can help bring significant support to a family in desperate need.
— Hedd Thomas, World Renew

Internally displaced people

One of the challenges to this means of providing food security is that internally displaced people are forced to leave their land and their means of producing their own food. According to World Vision’s figures, more than 10,000 civilians have been killed since the civil war began in December 2013, and more than 2.3 million people have been displaced. One of the places Messenger visited in November 2015 was Melut, where he met with internally displaced people who had taken temporary shelter. Tens of thousands of people live in a camp in Juba, in which World Vision has developed a voucher system for emergency food assistance.

Education in child-friendly spaces

In temporary camps, one of World Vision’s first priorities is to establish “child-friendly spaces,” usually under a tent where trained volunteers and World Vision staff can offer a safe haven “for children to come together and learn together and get to be kids.” The goal is to provide educational opportunities, even informal ones, for children so that they can continue to learn.

Messenger said, “Anytime you have populations that are displaced, they are leaving everything behind. Children are most affected by these changes. Even in emergency settings, we have to find ways for children to learn together.” These spaces are welcomed, as more than a third of children in South Sudan have been unable to access education.

Messenger noted that these informal schools are far from what North American parents would expect and hope for in a school, but that “child after child was telling them this is what they wanted, even with few supplies. They know that’s going to be the key for a better future.” Since 2015, World Vision has reached over 1.3 million South Sudanese people. Of this number, more than 630,000 are children.

Lasting peace

For long-term development, a more stable, lasting peace and an end to a culture of impunity are necessary. On the World Renew website, Hedd Thomas, the South Sudan Country Representative who lives in Yei, is quoted as saying: “We believe in the gospel’s power to heal, share Christian love and bring reconciliation between communities. Prayer is an essential part of our daily work; we know that God loves South Sudan, and that his plans will prevail.”

Prayer requests

  • 1. That people will put aside their tribal and political affiliations so that ethnic tensions are reduced. John 15:12 says, “This is my command; love one another as I love you.”
  • 2. That all will be willing to repent (admitting sins and failures, seeking forgiveness).
  • 3. That repentance will lead to gradual process of reconciliation.
  • 4. For God’s protection and care over those who are bereaved, stranded and injured.
  • 5. For God’s protection and strength for all those who are bringing assistance to the wounded, and those who have lost their homes.
  • 6. For safety and health of World Renew staff in South Sudan who are working in very difficult conditions.
  • 7. That people using social media on all sides of the conflict in South Sudan will stop using abusive language, hate speech and provocative pictures which are generating hatred and triggering new waves of violence.
  • 8. For all the church leaders in South Sudan, that they will be strong and able to help bring calm and reduce tensions by sharing powerful Christian messages.

World Renew has a long-term commitment to standing with the people of South Sudan. We work with those who are innocent yet deeply affected by the actions of military and political leaders. We are already helping the displaced people and those who have lost everything.
We cannot stop helping because conditions are difficult. New dangers appear every week, but we feel called to address the emergency needs of the people. Prayer and action are our tools.
— Hedd Thomas, World Renew

  • Judith Farris lives in Sarnia, Ontario with her family.

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