Mar. 17, 2022

S Sudan church official highlights country’s humanitarian crisis, as global attention turns to Ukrai

A church leader in South Sudan is urging the international community to keep its focus on the growing humanitarian crisis in the world’s youngest nation, as the globe beams its attention on the conflict in Ukraine.
Nighttime prayer vigil for peace in Nakubuse, a small village near Kuron in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria State, the region which has been plagued by cattle raiding and child abduction in recent years. The Catholic Church-sponsored Holy Trinity Peace Village, centered in Kuron, has worked for years to foster reconciliation and peace between the region's communities. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures
16 March 2022
By Fredrick Nzwili*

Rev. James Oyet Latansio, a Roman Catholic priest who is general secretary of the South Sudan Council of Churches said with the latest developments, such as the war in Ukraine, it was easy for the globe to focus on the new conflicts and forget old ones, such as the prolonged crisis in his country.

“I want to appeal to our ecumenical brothers and the global church: don’t forget South Sudan. Put South Sudan in your prayers and also in the priority for help,” said Latansio. “We understand there is donor fatigue, but we are victims of this situation. The common person—the poor, the young, the old—are innocent people paying the price.”

Last week, the UN’s World Food Programme warned that while the world attention was focused on Ukraine, a hidden hunger emergency was engulfing South Sudan, with about 8.3 million people—of the country’s 12.4 million population—including refugees threatened by extreme hunger in the coming months. More than 600,000 of them have been displaced by floods.

The UN has classified South Sudan among countries around the globe, where climate shocks, conflict, the coronavirus pandemic and rising costs are driving millions of people closer to starvation.

The flood crisis and conflict have led to large-scale displacement, loss of livelihoods, destruction of farmlands and crops in parts of the country. Communities in Jonglei, Lakes, Unity and Warrap states are most affected. According to reports, agencies are racing to deliver supplies in flood-prone areas before the rains start.

“The people are struggling now and will still struggle in the coming season. Humanitarian workers are being killed and humanitarian aid is robbed or looted because the people are desperate. The floods have subsided but there are some areas that are still underwater. At the moment, the people are not carrying out livelihood activities as they used to do before,” said Latansio, while adding that despite the challenges, people were still very hopeful.

The cleric said the church—with support from partners—has been moving some humanitarian aid while advocating for peace and reconciliation. It is also helping the people heal from the pains and trauma of the war. It has also been reaching out to politicians, helping them reconcile and build trust among each other so that they can accept peace.

Jane Backhurst, senior advisor on Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy at Christian Aid, said the situation in South Sudan was desperate, with climate-caused floods sweeping away homes, forcing families to flee and impacting planting, harvesting and depleting stocks.

"Severe food insecurity is escalating. In 2021, six counties had extreme levels of food insecurity but now there are thirteen,” said Backhurst. "Globally, current projections indicate that up to 13 million more people will be hungry globally due to rising food prices because of the crisis in Ukraine. Rising prices will also hit staples for people in South Sudan such as maize and oilseeds.”

According to the official, South Sudan’s economy was already in a downward spiral due to COVID-19, climate change-related events, and conflict.

“Even if supply was maintained, families will not be able to afford daily needs. Now more than ever, we need governments to fulfil their commitments to step up action to curb the escalation in hunger and take preventative action,” said Backhurst.

*Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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