South Sudan’s fifth birthday marred by conflict and hungerby Kathryn Reid, World Vision on July 7, 2016
July 9 marks the fifth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence. The excitement and promise of the young country’s early days are gone after two-and-a-half years of civil war. South Sudan is also gripped by a food crisis; 4.8 million people are struggling to find sufficient food.
‘It’s not my choice to be here.’ -Nyahok
Children like 11-year-old Nyahok are most affected by the difficulties of life in South Sudan.
Nyahok lives with her aunts and cousins – twenty people in all — in a two-roomed tarpaulin tent. It’s almost identical to thousands of others in rows that stretch toward the horizon of the sprawling camp near Juba, South Sudan’s capital city.
When her aunt fell sick some months back, Nyahok travelled with her in a cargo plane from Bentiu, in Unity state, to Juba. Bentiu had been razed by insurgents, causing families in the town and surrounding villages to flee.
In Juba, life isn’t much better. Nyahok and thousands of others who fled conflict areas live in camps guarded by UN peace-keepers. Yet Nyahok and her aunt fear the same violence in Juba that they crossed the country to escape.
Since December 2013, when conflict began, more than 2.3 million South Sudanese have left their homes because of attacks. About 1.6 million are displaced within the country, many living in camps like Nyahok’s. More than 700,000 South Sudanese are refugees in neighboring countries, including Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
‘Life is not good’
Despite the best efforts of aid organizations, camps for displaced people harbor terrible suffering.
Food aid has not been enough to meet the demand created by new arrivals. More than 4.8 million South Sudanese face severe food shortages that are expected to worsen in the next few months. This is the highest level of hunger since the conflict began.
Since the beginning of 2016, more than 100,000 children have been treated for malnutrition, representing a 40 percent increase over the same period of 2015.
“We are suffering because we don’t have enough food,” says Nyahok. But this is not the worst thing – the worst thing is watching people die. “There are always people dying,” she says.
“(Here) Life is not good. I am young and I’m not with my family, I miss my parents…It’s not my choice to be here,” she says.
Theresa, 14, lives in a camp for people displaced by the civil war in South Sudan.
‘Independence is when the flag was raised. There was a lot of excitement because the fighting was over. But now there is fighting and I don’t understand.’ -Theresa
Theresa wishes for peace so that she can go home and attend her old school. She’d like to be a doctor some day. (Photo: 2016 World Vision, Rose Ogola)
Young nation’s children in jeopardy
In the camp where Nyahok lives, children are everywhere. In her family alone, they number four to each adult. She looks after the three youngest children in the family when she isn’t at school or doing other household chores.
“The best thing here [in the camp] is that I go to school,” Nyahok says. School helps her to look forward to a future in which she hopes to be “a doctor and a leader.”
An education will set her apart in South Sudan where only one in six women can read and write. The U.N. children’s agency says more than one-third of South Sudanese children have been unable to attend school since the conflict began.
Despite a ceasefire signed nearly a year ago, violence continues, and thousands more South Sudanese are forced to flee. Though progress toward peace has been slow, a transitional government is now in place.
Despite her difficulties, Nyahok has hope. “I always pray for peace,” she says.
Reporting from South Sudan by Melany Markham
World Vision responds in South Sudan:
- 1.3 million people, including 630,000 children, have received assistance since 2015
- Families were helped with water and sanitation, household goods, safety, and education
- More than 280,000 people were reached with food assistance
- 64,200 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers got nutrition help
- 95,000 people participated in farming and food security programs