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Juba, South Sudan: Child rights organisation Plan International (Plan) warned today that prolonged conflict in South Sudan could cause massive disruption to the school calendar, disrupting efforts to rebuild the country’s education system.
Fighting in the world’s youngest country erupted on 15 December, pitting army units loyal to President Salva Kiir against rebel forces.
More than 1000 people, mostly civilians, have been reported killed and an estimated 200,000 have been internally displaced.
Embassies, aid groups and the UN evacuated staff from the country at the weekend as fresh fighting broke-out in the capital Juba.
Plan’s Acting Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Hazel Nyathi, said that if the situation remains unchecked, thousands of children would remain out of school when the new term begins next month.
Nyathi said more than 100,000 children had been affected by the conflict and some of them had been separated from their parents.
“Many children have been separated from their families due to the conflict and are vulnerable to abuse and health risks. Many of these children will remain out of school when the education calendar opens.”
South Sudan is believed to have the worst literacy rate in the world, lagging behind even Mali and Niger. A July 2012 report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) found that less than 10 per cent of the population had completed primary school education.
Since independence in 2011, the South Sudanese government has been steadily rebuilding its education system by allocating a large share of its national budget to education. In addition, aid agencies have been channelling funds into education to help shore-up the levels of literacy in the oil-rich state.
Nyathi said that if the conflict remains unresolved, these efforts could soon be reversed.
“Our teams have been to Awerial State, which is 140 kilometres from Juba and home to about 84,000 people who have fled from Bor in Jongei State which has been under heavy shelling from both government and rebel forces. The situation there is dire.
“Most families are sleeping in the open and children are fetching water, bathing and washing from the same river. The water is not drinkable and is not treated. The hygiene and sanitation situation is critical with open defecation happening everywhere. There is also a need for psychosocial support as many children and youth are traumatised from on-going conflict and state of displacement. Food is also in short supply,” she said.
Plan Sudan Country Director, Gyan Adhikari, said Plan teams will be moving into Awerial State soon to offer child protection support, water sanitation and hygiene services as well psychosocial support to affected children
“Our staff based in Awerial have been supporting the screening and referral of displaced and malnourished children. We are transporting food from our base near Awerial to distribute to malnourished children in Awerial,” he said.