42 per cent of the population faces 'severe food insecurity'
By Matt Hadro
Photo: A woman in Thonyor, South Sudan, holds a child while waiting to be registered for food distribution Feb. 26. (CNS/Siegfried Modola, Reuters)
Amid war and famine in South Sudan, the Catholic Church is still serving the most vulnerable even as the government has collapsed.
The Church is the “only functioning institution in civil society,” Neil Corkery, president of the Sudan Relief Fund, told CNA in an interview. It “is really the only athing that’s left trying to help people” who live “in the remotest parts of the country.”
Famine was recently declared in parts of South Sudan, where there has been an ongoing civil war, interrupted by tenuous peace, since December 2013.
42 per cent of the population, an estimated 4.5 million people, are facing “severe food insecurity,” Corkery said, and that number is expected to rise to half the country’s population – or 5.5 million – by July.
There have been 2.5 million refugees created by the conflict, he added. A confidential UN report warned that the conflict had reached “catastrophic proportions for civilians,” the South China Morning Post reported last month.
“This crisis is man-made, the direct consequence of a conflict prolonged by South Sudanese leaders who are unwilling to put aside political ambitions for the good of their people,” State Department acting spokesperson Mark C. Toner stated on Feb. 21.
“We call on President Kiir to expeditiously make good on his promise that humanitarian and developmental organizations will have unimpeded access to populations in need across the country,” Toner added.
Recently, President Salva Kiir called for a day of prayer for the country ahead of a national dialogue. The auxiliary bishop of Juba, however, dismissed it as a “political prayer” and “a mockery” amid violence inflicted by government troops.
The country’s bishops have spoken out against the violence there, accusing soldiers of committing war crimes and saying that the violence has interrupted the harvesting of crops.
“Despite our calls to all parties, factions, and individuals to STOP THE WAR, nevertheless killing, raping, looting, displacement, attacks on churches and destruction of property continue all across the country,” the bishops of South Sudan stated in a Feb. 23 pastoral message.
“Much of the violence,” they added, “is being perpetrated by government and opposition forces against civilians,” especially those of ethnicities deemed to be in alliance with rebel factions.
Some members of the government have frustrated local peace deals brokered by the Church, the bishops said, and churches, priests, and nuns have been attacked.
Amid this crisis and growing famine, Catholic priests, nuns, and missionaries have been labouring to bring food and supplies to remote areas and are “reaching these people who are truly destitute and starving.”
Long-term peace is the only lasting solution to the country’s problems, Corkery insisted, and prayer is the most important thing Catholics around the world can do to help the situation.
Pope Francis has spoken about the crisis in the country and has expressed his desire to visit there.