NEW COUNTRY, OLD STORY
In July 2011, South Sudan became the world’s youngest country, gaining independence from northern Sudan after decades of war. For many, independence was a symbol of a promising future characterised by resolved political grievances, peace and overall development.
However, South Sudan did not have the chance to grow. In December 2013 the governing party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) split and the country was engulfed in a power crisis. What started as a political disagreement between the President, Salva Kiir and his then deputy, Riek Machar, quickly spiralled into an ethnic war leading to the death of thousands of women, children and men.
Over 2 million others fled their homes because of the violence, 1.5 million people, seeking safety in other parts of the country and over half a million now live as refuges in neighbouring countries, mainly Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Currently, South Sudan faces a food security crisis. The UN estimates that over 4.6 million people will be severely food insecure by the end of July.
The war has driven people from their homes, preventing them from cultivating their fields. Many people are missing meals and are being forced to sell their limited assets for food. The country is spiraling into an economic free fall characterized by high food and fuel prices and an ever-rising cost of living.
South Sudan, with an estimate population of 11.5 million people, became an independent state on July 9, 2011. Two years later in December 2013, a conflict evolved into a civil war, smashing the hopes of South Sudanese people for a promising future.
Since the outbreak of the war, more than two million people have fled their homes. Over 142,000 have sought refuge in protection of civilian sites in UN compounds (like the one pictured, in Juba) while thousands more have settled in informal settlements such as Minkaman. The vast majority of people are welcomed by local communities.
Maria Ayok, 37, fled her home in 2011, after her husband was killed in a militia attack. She now lives in a camp for displaced people in Wau and cannot return home. Maria doesn’t have land here so she can’t grow her own crops and her children don’t go to school. But here is where they feel safe.
Maria, like other displaced families here, depends mostly on humanitarian assistance to survive. Before, they could live off harvested crops, livestock and fishing. Now, she relies on monthly food rations and what she earns from selling reeds and branches in the market.
Nyantuc Kuong, 37, is a widow with three children. She fled her home in April after her village was set on fire during an attack. She walked for three days with her children, sleeping in the cold, with only wild food to eat.
When Nyantuc reached Paduel, in the province of Tonj East, she had nothing. Her life depended on the townspeople, and it remains so. They share what they can with her and the children. Otherwise, she feeds on wild leaves like the others.
The food disappears in the blink of an eye. Many people are struggling to put food on the table due to serious food shortages and the high prices of the little that is available in the markets. Conflict remains the main driver for this situation.
Oxfam, with the support of the European Union, provides emergency food, builds and repairs boreholes and latrines, and trains communities on good hygiene to prevent diseases as cholera. The Emergency Preparedness and Response team reaches remote areas like Paduel with this kind of assistance.
Minkaman is the largest IDP (internally displaced people) settlement in South Sudan, home for more than 70,000 people. We distribute month food rations and help people with access to clean water. We also promote good hygiene practices and ways to maintain facilities. Community members, acting as hygiene promoters, are responsible for disseminating the messages among people in the camp.
Nyantuc, with her two-year-old-child, is an ethnic Nuer and has been welcomed by the Dinka community in Paduel. “The future of my children is in this community. My hope is that the country is at peace.”
Since the conflict began, Oxfam and European Comission have been there; providing life-saving assistance to thousands of conflict-affected people. This includes clean water, hygiene facilities, food (sorghum, flour, oil and salt), fuel, income support, hygiene promotion, shelter and protection. Nowadays, Oxfam with the support of the European Union has pre-positioned aid supplies in the most remote areas, ready to provide emergency assistance to people caught up in the conflict.
The only way to address this crisis is to end the violence. All parties in the conflict must end attacks on civilians and allow people to safely reach humanitarian assistance.