Reports of continued fighting of South Sudan are worrying. Violence has destroyed communities and torn families apart; many people have fled into the bush and are living without shelter, food and clean water or hygiene facilities.
This conflict is a devastating blow to the world’s newest nation. When the country gained independence in 2011 there was so much hope. And for the past few years, South Sudan had looked like a nation on a stable path towards peace and development. But now, 3 years on, the country’s future is in doubt.
I have been to South Sudan twice in the past decade. The first time was six years ago just after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended 30 years of civil war. At that time, Juba, the capital of South Sudan, was a small place with a handful of shops, virtually no made up roads and a run down hospital.
I was back in Juba three years ago as we made preparations to launch a new Red Cross Society for the world’s youngest nation. With independence within grasp, Juba was buzzing. New tarmac roads had been laid, a new airport terminal almost completed and holes had been dug for streetlights and some trees. A massive sense of optimism; and a scent of new beginnings were in the air.
But since the fighting began on 15 December 2013 nearly one million people have been made homeless while thousands of people – including civilians – are feared dead.
According to the UN, over 931,000 people have now been displaced by the crisis since mid-December, 222,000 of whom have crossed into neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.
The fighting has disrupted farming activities; already 4 million people in South Sudan were classified as food insecure before the conflict began. Farmers in South Sudan normally plant crops between March and early June and the season for planting is now. But with people unable to sow seeds or harvest crops due to the widespread displacement, there are set to be severe repercussions on the country’s food production.
Now, the rainy season has begun, bringing with it flooding and the increased risk of waterborne diseases disease and cases of malaria. The situation does not bode well at all for South Sudan.
This means the situation is not only a huge challenge for the country, but for South Sudan’s neighbours and the rest of the international community as well.
As the country grapples with how to move beyond the violence, the Red Cross is calling on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. They must, as the law requires, ensure that civilians and people no longer participating in hostilities, are respected and spared from all forms of violence.
Here in the UK, the British Red Cross has launched an appeal to help people affected by the conflict.
Money raised from the appeal will go towards supporting the work of the Red Cross in South Sudan and neighbouring countries that are helping refugees from the conflict and will supplement the £175,000 released from its Disaster Fund in February.
Our priority now is to help the huge numbers of people affected by the fighting, who have been left in an extremely vulnerable position, in the hope that one day a peaceful resolution can be found, and this, the world’s newest nation, can continue on its path to maturity.
To support the South Sudan Crisis appeal, please visit: www.redcross.org.uk/southsudan