Star­va­tion and war: South Su­dan’s ‘peace’ deal in ac­tion

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

On pa­per, the war is over in South Su­dan, af­ter ri­vals signed a peace deal to end 21-months of vi­o­lence that left tens of thou­sands killed.

But here in the swamps of Koch in the north­ern bat­tle­ground state of Unity, the po­lit­i­cal deal means lit­tle in lands where fight­ing, rape and the burn­ing of homes has not stopped, wors­en­ing hunger lev­els al­ready bor­der­ing on famine.

“We came to re­ceive food,” said mother-of-seven Nyaluak Gai, aged 24, wait­ing in lines of hun­dreds of peo­ple for aid hand­outs from the U.N. World Food Pro­gramme (WFP).

“We search for wa­ter lilies and wild plants for food,” Gai told AFP, say­ing that the aid ra­tions will last a short time, and she must then go back to gath­er­ing grass to fill the bel­lies of her chil­dren.

Gai is a widow: her hus­band was killed in a civil war marked by wide­spread atroc­i­ties on both sides, and in which civil­ians have borne the brunt of the fight­ing.

Both sides are ac­cused of hav­ing per­pe­trated eth­nic mas­sacres, re­cruited and killed chil­dren and car­ried out wide­spread rape, tor­ture and forced dis­place­ment of pop­u­la­tions to “cleanse” ar­eas of their op­po­nents.

A year ago famine was averted only af­ter a huge in­ter­ven­tion by aid agen­cies.

Now aid agen­cies warn that while some ar­eas are im­prov­ing as crops ripen, other ar­eas where war has forced the peo­ple to flee into re­mote swamps are on the edge of dis­as­ter.

The U.N. Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) warns of “iso­lated cases of star­va­tion” in parts of Unity and Up­per Nile states — once the coun­try’s main oil pro­duc­ing states, now the epi­cen­ter of vi­o­lence — which it lists as “one of the world’s worst hu­man­i­tar­ian and food se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tions.”

Parts of both states are al­ready clas­si­fied as be­ing one step short of famine, ac­cord­ing to the last tech­ni­cal as­sess­ment made in April.

“Their con­di­tions are likely to have de­te­ri­o­rated fur­ther,” FAO said in its latest re­port this month.

Lack of ba­sic road in­fra­struc­ture in South Su­dan means that food of­ten has to be air­dropped or de­liv­ered by river barge to reach needy peo­ple up­rooted by fight­ing.

The vil­lage of Koch is now in gov­ern­ment hands, but sur­round­ing vil­lages are held by rebels, although U.N. aid work­ers have now man­aged to de­liver aid af­ter four months of war blocked ac­cess.

“We see very high rates of malnutrition, food in­se­cu­rity is high, (there are) wa­ter san­i­ta­tion and health is­sues,” WFP coun­try chief Joyce Luma said on a re­cent visit.

Many of the thou­sands who have fled here are liv­ing in ba­sic shel­ters with small pieces of plas­tic sheet­ing to keep off rain. Some aid has ar­rived, but the peo­ple are still strug­gling.

“The houses were all burned,” said Rhu­sia Nyalou, a 37-year-old mother of eight. “The fight­ing goes on, the cows were all taken, life is not good here.”

Three of her chil­dren fled as refugees with rel­a­tives north to Su­dan, one is liv­ing in the vast U.N. base in the state cap­i­tal Bentiu, a crowded camp of some 117,000 peo­ple pro­tected by armed peace­keep­ers.

Her four re­main­ing chil­dren, like her, strug­gle to sur­vive, liv­ing off grasses they col­lect and WFP food.

“We eat any grass that makes food, but the chil­dren are suf­fer­ing badly,” she said, adding that even when they have enough to eat, they fear con­stant at­tacks from gun­men.

South Su­dan de­scended into blood­shed in De­cem­ber 2013 when Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir ac­cused Riek Machar, who he had sacked as his deputy six months pre­vi­ously, of plan­ning a coup.

The army and rebels have re­peat­edly traded blame, ac­cus­ing each other of break­ing an in­ter­na­tion­ally bro­kered Aug. 26 ceasefire deal, the eighth such agree- ment to have been signed since civil war broke out in De­cem­ber 2013.

But con­di­tions on the ground re­main as bad as ever.

The Famine Early Warn­ing Sys­tems Net­work, which makes de­tailed tech­ni­cal assess­ments of hunger, are ex­pected to re­lease their latest re­port in Oc­to­ber.

Aid work­ers say they fear “pock­ets” of pos­si­ble famine — a dis­as­ter caused by war, not by cli­matic con­di­tions.

Famine means at least 20 per­cent of house­holds face ex­treme food short­ages, acute malnutrition in over 30 per­cent of peo­ple, and two deaths per 10,000 peo­ple ev­ery day, ac­cord­ing to the U.N. tech­ni­cal def­i­ni­tion.

“The peo­ple have suf­fered greatly dur­ing the con­flict, and its time for it to be over,” U.S. Am­bas­sador to South Su­dan Mary Cather­ine Phee said. “Each side ac­cuses the other side of at­tacks ... there is more work to be done to bring peace.”

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