South Sudan: One year on hope hangs in the balance
One year ago today the world’s newest country erupted in bitter conflict.
For many families in South Sudan, the hope that their children could finally thrive in peace was shattered.
A political dispute between the president and his deputy spiralled into violence that has now claimed at least 10,000 lies, although we may never know the true figure.
Today, there is little improvement: a political impasse continues to have devastating human consequences.
Those that have escaped the violence are now struggling to survive
More than half the population is in need of aid.
Almost 2 million people have been forced from their homes but remain in the country, seeking safety in camps set up to protect civilians, or in communities far from the front line that are finding it hard to accommodate so many newcomers.
Another 487,000 people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
Every aspect of children’s lives has been affected
Farming and trade were disrupted, so hunger and malnutrition have increased.
Now, an estimated 235,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition. Many of the 1,200 schools in the worst affected states – Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile –closed due to the conflict. And we have already seen a deadly outbreak of cholera, due to the unsanitary conditions people have been forced to endure.
Today I am thinking of the children and families I met in South Sudan earlier this year.
Their lives are immensely difficult today and tomorrow is uncertain. Save the Children is providing a lifeline for them.
Nyabal and Doctor
I’m thinking of Nyabal and her five-year-old son, Doctor. The little boy was treated for a life-threatening combination of severe malnutrition and malaria at a Save the Children-supported stabilisation centre.
“There’s no food at all,” Nyabal told me. “I don’t have any cattle or goats. We only ate lalok leaves and fruits for three months.
“Doctor was very sick. He was crying from the pain in his stomach. He was so weak he couldn’t walk, and he was always asking for food but I didn’t have enough.
Help from Save the Children
“Then he was admitted to the stabilisation centre. I am very happy because he got better so fast. I give thanks to the doctor there, and to God. Now he can play with his brothers and sisters again.”
Without lasting peace, this may not be the last time Doctor’s life hangs in the balance.
Negotiations and Cessation of Hostility commitments have come and gone. The rainy season, which renders more than half of South Sudan’s roads impassable, is drawing to a close, and reports of renewed violence in Jonglei, where Nyabal and Doctor live, are emerging.
We don’t know what will happen next
In the past year Save the Children has reached more than 100,000 children with life-saving healthcare, nutrient-rich foods, psychosocial support and emergency education.
We will continue doing whatever it takes to help them. We must not let a generation of children pay the price for this conflict.
But let’s hope that by the time the second anniversary comes around, South Sudan will have lasting peace and be well on the way to recovery.