With a Western World so seemingly on the brink of catastrophe – from a mad dictator in North Korea threatening nuclear war to terrorism on the shores of mainland Europe – it is easy to turn a blind eye to human tragedies that do not immediately affect the West’s security.
South Sudan is a country experiencing extreme human turmoil. A turmoil that, until recently, has experienced little media coverage outside of sub-saharan Africa. Now that UK International Development secretary, Priti Patel, has come back from a recent visit to the region with reports of brutal genocide in the war torn country, it is a struggle that can no longer be ignored.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. What should have been a honey moon period for the newly formed country soon descended into violence and civil war. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the party that delivered independence to the people, was plagued by infighting upon coming into power. December 2013 saw this infighting come to ahead when President Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused Vice-President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of trying to stage a military coup. The two factions of government forces began violent battle along political and ethnic lines and fighting soon spread across the nation.
Since then, despite various peace treaties, violence has been a constant threat for the people of South Sudan and now, if recent reports are true, genocide is plaguing the country. In an interview with the Associated Press, Priti Patel described a land where women are being raped, villages are being burned down and food is being used as a weapon against the people.
Due to crop failure coupled with disruption from the ongoing violence a famine was declared in parts of South Sudan in early 2017. 100,000 people are now on the brink of starvation with a further 5 million people at risk of going hungry. If that wasn’t bad enough, South Sudan’s economy is in crisis with exponential rises in costs of goods and services and the highest inflation rate in the World at 835%.
Since 2013, 3.6 million civilians have been displaced due to violence and starvation with 1.5 million seeking refuge in surrounding countries. According to humanitarian charity Mercy Corps, South Sudan is now “the third most fled country in the World behind Syria and Afghanistan”.
For those ‘lucky’ enough to be able to find refuge in the 6 UN refugee camps, set up in surrounding countries, the conditions are often dire. Crowded camps and recent flooding has led to the spread of disease and the overflowing of sewage systems. Some reports show that mothers have chosen to sleep standing up while holding their babies rather than exposing them to the filthy conditions at floor level.
For the 2.1 million who could not find camps life is even more volatile. Still fearing unrelenting violence, many seek peace in isolated villages while others take their chances and flee to the bush taking only what they can carry in their hands.
Despite UN-backed aid so much more needs to be done. This is a crisis the international community can no longer afford to sideline. Human suffering is happening on an extraordinary scale and it is time to act. With a united, international response this young country can, one day, enjoy the peace and prosperity it deserves.