SOUTH SUDAN

On the edge of starvation   
PHOTOS By Peter Biro

Ethnic conflict in South Sudan has killed thousands and disrupted daily life, leaving nearly 7 million at risk of hunger and 3.7 million facing starvation, according to the United Nations.

The scale of the crisis in the world’s newest nation is huge. In four months over 1 million South Sudanese have been displaced, with 300,000 having become refugees in neighboring countries. “No one feels safe,” says Wendy Taeuber, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in South Sudan.

Since December, when a political rivalry between South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and Riek Machar, a former vice president, erupted into violence, thousands of people have been killed and more than a million have been forced to flee their homes. The fighting put an end to three years of peace and a shaky stability following South Sudan’s declaration of independence from Sudan. Now South Sudan is facing a humanitarian catastrophe and an upsurge of violence between the country’s largest two ethnic groups, the Dinka, and the Nuer. 

Protected areas, supposed to be safe havens for the displaced, are under attack. On April 17 armed men attacked a UN base in Bor and massacred 58 unarmed civilians including two IRC staff members. Children as young as two months were killed. On the same day armed men attacked churches, mosques and hospitals in Bentiu.

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The recent conflict has reignited ethnic hatred between the country's largest two ethnic groups, the Dinka, who support South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir and the Nuer, who oppose the government. Here, a soldier from the Nuer “White Army” patrols a dirt road in the town of  Ganyiel.
“The world must tell our leaders to stop this fighting.”
- Nyagon Kuol, 30, living with her children in a UN compound in South Sudan’s capital, Juba

Ganyiel, South Sudan

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FACING STARVATION

The civil conflict couldn’t have come at a worse time. The last two years have seen devastating flooding across South Sudan. Crops have been washed away in the torrents, leaving nothing to harvest. As a result, the UN warns that nearly 7 million people are at risk of hunger while 3.7 million are at risk of imminent starvation. In Ganyiel an influx of people fleeing the fighting “has made the food shortages unbearable,” says Peter Kuarbang, the town’s administrator. People normally harvest rich crops of sorghum, corn and beans but now must depend on infrequent food deliveries flown in by UN helicopters. Many are reduced to eating water lilies, roots and grass to survive.

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Over a third of South Sudan’s population is in need of humanitarian aid.  “UNICEF has said that 50,000 children under 5 years old are likely to die by the end of the year if assistance isn’t scaled up,” says the IRC’s Wendy Taeuber. “In some counties, one in four children are facing malnutrition now.”

PROVIDING RELIEF

The International Rescue Committee is providing urgently needed medical care, water and sanitation services, protection for vulnerable women and girls, and other assistance. However, emergency funding is running out.

“The UN warns of the possibility of famine in the coming months,” says IRC president David Miliband. “We can save more lives with adequate resources. Without critical support, the humanitarian community will be overwhelmed and many people will die.” 

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