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.
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.
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.”
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.”Donate now to support families caught in crisis in South Sudan »