South Sudan’s people are on ‘brink of destitution,’ bishop says

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Sudanese refugees collect water from a borehole at the Gorom Refugee Camp near Juba, in South Sudan, Jan. 26, 2024. The camp is hosting Sudanese refugees who fled recent fighting in their own country. (OSV News photo/Samir Bol, Reuters)

(OSV News) — Church leaders in South Sudan are appealing to faith communities, international donors and people of goodwill to support the suffering people in the region, who have been left vulnerable by a mix of crises, including the ongoing civil war, starvation, drought and floods, to only name a few.

People are on the “brink of destitution following their great suffering,” Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio in South Sudan warned in a letter. Dated March 8, the letter was published March 15 by the Sudan and South Sudan bishops.

They “suffer the effects of complex emergencies,” which are still being experienced in many parts of the country, including areas that had previously been peaceful, said Bishop Kussala, president of the Integral Human Development Commission of the Sudan and South Sudan bishops’ conference.

The bishop said the multiple tragic crises in the world’s youngest nation have resulted in the loss of lives, pushed millions of residents out of their homes and destroyed livelihoods.

“The number of internally displaced persons who are living in deplorable conditions, and are starving has increased tremendously across the country, with the most affected being women, children, the aged, and people living with disabilities,” the bishop said of the grim situation in the world’s youngest nation.

Dead and dying in South Sudan

The northeast African nation of more than 10.75 million people descended into a bloody civil war only two years after gaining independence, in December 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup d’état. Although the war ended with a 2018 peace agreement that brought Kiir and Machar together, there’s still fighting and kidnappings, especially in rural areas.

Pope Francis, in a dramatic gesture that made headlines around the world, knelt to kiss the feet of South Sudan’s previously warring leaders in April 2019, as he urged them to not return to a civil war.

He appealed to the leaders to respect an armistice they signed and commit to forming a unity government, which eventually happened.

The civil war left nearly 400,000 people dead and over 4 million displaced from their homes, including almost 2.3 million who fled to neighboring countries, including Uganda, Kenya and Sudan.

UNICEF, the United Nations’ agency working to help children around the globe, said in its report that the landlocked country will continue to require significant support from the international community. The agency estimated that 9.4 million people, including 5 million children, 2.2 million women and 1.3 million people with disabilities, will require humanitarian assistance throughout 2024.

Bishop Kussala agreed with the figures, saying that the situation has already forced thousands of children out of school to go to the streets to beg for food while others opt to work to survive the biting hunger.

“This has caused the number of out-of-school children to sore with most of these … children quickly becoming street children. This menace of the rising number of street children, if not addressed immediately, will impact negatively on the country’s security,” he noted.

A tragic situation

Meanwhile, Bishop Kussala urged that the current crises in South Sudan haven’t been addressed by the South Sudanese leadership, thus calling for intervention by international community.

“It is no longer about the country and its leadership but about the people of South Sudan, who are slowly perishing,” the bishop lamented.

“Consider the South Sudanese mother who watches her child die because of malnutrition caused by severe hunger; the young man who dies in the hospital because there is no medicine to treat him; the 9-year-old girl who, for a piece of ‘bambe’ (potato), is forced to sell her body; and the emaciated old woman who is lying inside her ramshackle hut awaiting death to take away her suffering,” the bishop cried out.

The tragic situation of the South Sudanese doesn’t get any better with a brutal civil war in neighboring Sudan.

Top U.N. officials have said the conflict has plunged the country into “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history” and could trigger the world’s largest hunger crisis.

There are also fears that in Darfur, in the west of the country, a repeat of what the U.S. called genocide 20 years ago may be beginning to unfold, the BBC reported as their staff managed to enter Sudan, reporting rape, ethnic violence and street executions.

Scores of people fled to neighboring countries, including South Sudan.

Tonny Onyuolo

Tonny Onyuolo writes for OSV News from Kampala, Uganda.