South Sudan is facing a major hunger emergency as drought has ruined food supplies. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says nearly five million people “could suffer from food insecurity in 2012, with an estimated 1 million people severely food-insecure.”
Ahnna Gudmunds, a WFP Sudan officer, says, “Households will face significant difficulty obtaining food during this period. Volatile food supply and poor diets are likely to intensify the severity of the hunger season.”
It gets worse. Conflict in the Jonglei State, the largest in South Sudan, has caused suffering, displacement, and even more hunger. Fighting between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes has escalated in recent months. The two sides have a history of violence. One side kidnaps members of the other or steals cattle, the other side responds with an attack, and the cycle of violence continues.
A family compound in a small village, 15 kilometers outside of Pibor Town in South Sudan, was burnt to the ground during an attack on the Murle tribe by the Lou Nuer. Photo by Renee Lambert/CRS
Violence across Jonglei State forced tens of thousands of people – mostly women and children – to seek refuge in the bush where they had little or no access to food or clean drinking water. Copyright WFP/Amorcecille Almagro
WFP is feeding about 170,800 people displaced by this conflict. This emergency food aid must be followed by longer term development aid.
Gudmunds explains that Jonglei is “one of the most underdeveloped states with a very poor, and sometimes non-existing, infrastructure. Some of the counties may be accessible by road only for few months a year due to rains.”
WFP is rushing to make sure supplies are in place ahead of these expected rains in April. The international community needs to ensure WFP has enough funding to carry on the relief work. South Sudan, which gained its independence last year, is reeling from war and drought.
There is also no shortage of weapons, making the conflict between the Lou Neur and Murle that much more dangerous. Both tribes were armed during the decades-long Civil War between the South and North Sudan. That war ended in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
A report from the Small Arms Survey says, “Despite post-CPA disarmament drives, both groups have remained armed and active. Their ongoing feud is highly suggestive of civil war-era dynamics, exacerbated by post-CPA jockeying for services, power, and influence.”
The government of South Sudan is currently undertaking a campaign to disarm civilians in Jonglei. Most everyone would agree that disarmament is needed. But the question is when this disarmament should take place.
The Enough project warns that the time for disarmament is not right and will undermine the peace process. There needs to be confidence-building, dialogue, and humanitarian aid well in process before traveling the disarmament path.
Amanda Hsiao, Enough Project South Sudan field researcher, says, “Without the capacity to simultaneously disarm rival communities, to ensure the security of disarmed communities, and to stop the flow of arms back into the hands of civilians, forcible disarmament at this moment will undermine, rather than facilitate, the government’s efforts toward peace-building in Jonglei.”
Jennifer Christian, Enough Project Sudan policy analyst, adds, “What the people of Jonglei require right now is humanitarian assistance, security, and the establishment of a mechanism through which they may peacefully resolve their grievances with other communities.”
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is focusing a great extent of its peacebuilding in South Sudan on development. For CRS only hope will light the road to peace in Sudan. Peace and development are clearly linked.
Sara Fajardo, a CRS officer, says, “Decades of violent conflict have left their mark. We need to provide alternatives to violence by investing in ‘peace dividends’ such as building roads, digging borehole wells, helping to strengthen the health care system, and providing seeds and tools for agriculture to name a few. These are all crucial components in giving people a reason to hope and build a future.”
CRS is working on these projects in South Sudan as well as reinforcing relief efforts for the displaced. However, funding for these projects is key. CRS, for instance, faced low funding for its school feeding programs in Bor County, Jonglei. These programs came to an end last year.
Also crucial will be ensuring the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has enough resources to help protect civilians. Hilde Johnson, director of the mission, says, “UNMISS has reinforced its presence in key areas of Jonglei State and is conducting continuous air patrols to deter violence.”
It was such air patrols that detected and sounded the alarm about a large force of the Lou Neur readying to attack the Murle in December.
Dialogue, development, and disarmament need to take place in South Sudan. Until they do hunger and misery will continue in this impoverished nation. Right now, South Sudan is trapped in a major food crisis, with the future of millions of people hanging in the balance.