Concern about situation in South Sudan

Refugees in Elegu reception center managed by LWF, at the border between South Sudan and Northern Uganda. Photo: LWF Uganda

Atrocities and impending famine in war-torn country

(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is urgently calling for more support to help the victims of the resurging civil war in South Sudan. Half a year after the broken peace agreement and violent clashes in the capital of Juba, the fighting has spread across the country.

In September 2016, South Sudan joined Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan as countries with more than a million refugees worldwide. According to the United Nations, more than 1.2 million people have become refugees, while a further 1.87 million people are internally displaced. More than 204,000 people are living in special sites set up by the United Nations to protect civilians.

As the situation deteriorates, many international observers are even warning of an imminent genocide. A UN commission on human rights in South Sudan has observed what they called a “steady process of ‘ethnic cleansing’”, involving massacres, starvation, gang rape and the destruction of villages.

Threat of new famine

“We are extremely concerned about the situation,” says LWF Regional Program Coordinator Lokiru Yohana. “We hear of fighting in the Greater Upper Nile Region, Unity and Jonglei state, even the once peaceful and stable Greater Equatoria region, which serves as the main bread basket of the country.”

The Equatoria region, which accounts for over half of the country’s net cereal production, has been severely impacted by the conflict. Recent estimates by the United Nations World Food program indicate close to 4 million people or one third of the South Sudanese population as “extremely food insecure”, meaning that those people do not know when and how they will have their next meal.

Operating in country and providing aid to communities in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states has become an even greater challenge, particularly since the beginning of the dry season in November. “The dry season facilitates the movement of armed forces and cattle raiders. These pose  a significant challenge to humanitarian activities, especially the transport of relief goods,” Yohana says. “It becomes increasingly difficult to protect staff while reaching out to the most affected communities. We are especially concerned by the deteriorating situation in Jonglei state, where we assist internally displaced people.”

High numbers of refugees in neighboring countries

The majority of people fleeing to neighboring countries go to Northern Uganda, which now is hosting close to one million refugees, the majority of them from South Sudan. Currently LWF staff report 3,000 new arrivals every week. “We provide shelter, water, sanitation and protection services to the South Sudanese refugees,” says Jesse Kamstra, LWF Country Representative in Uganda. “But with these high numbers of new arrivals, we need much more capacity to provide adequate aid.”

Newly arriving refugees report atrocities and food insecurity. Many bring as many household items as they can carry and even farm animals. “It seems like everyone who can get out of the country is doing exactly that,” Kamstra adds. “Many of the refugees don’t expect to be able to return in the near future.”

The Gambella region in Ethiopia is once again receiving a large influx of South Sudanese refugees. According to UNHCR data, since September 2016, a total of 46,062 of South Sudanese have arrived at an average of 500 per day.  86 percent of the new arrivals are women and children from the Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity states in South Sudan. Renewed fighting and food insecurity are the principal reasons or their flight.

Children especially at risk

Kakuma refugee camp in Northern Kenya is seeing a similar increase in people fleeing the South Sudan war. At the border point in Nadapal, LWF currently receives about 1,000 new refugees per week.

“Everything we see confirms our fear that the situation in South Sudan is getting worse every day. Currently the two most acute problems are a lack of vaccine at the border and the cutting of food rations by half. Lack of vaccine is a grave concern because people are required to have certain vaccinations before entering Kenya, and the number of asylum seekers at the border is increasing by the day.”

Even more concerning is the food situation, especially for children and youth: “Food is already very scarce in Kakuma,” Hernander says, “especially for young adults who need more than the average food ration contains, and for persons with specific dietary needs. Since the United Nations had to reduce the food rations by half, people in the camp just do not have enough to eat.”