A famine worse than anything in recent history looms in war-torn South Sudan – the predominantly Christian, oil-rich African nation that fought for decades to gain independence from Muslim-dominated Sudan.
“An acute shortage of food is threatening the lives of millions,” reports the BBC, “at the same time as the country is mired in a civil war between government forces and armed rebels. The conflict has sparked widespread ethnic violence between the country's largest tribal groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, and has led to more than one million fleeing their homes.”
According to the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report, a majority of the population is Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal. South Sudan is roughly the size of Texas.
“Donors pledged more than $600 million in May to help avert a crisis which aid agencies said could be the biggest since the 1984 Ethiopian famine,” reports Andrew Green for Reuters, “with 3.5 million people already suffering from acute or emergency-level food shortages.
At least a million are unable to meet basic needs, according to the United Nations.
It’s a manmade famine. In 2011, the country experienced one of the best agricultural years in decades with farmers producing nearly three-quarters of the 1.3 million metric tons of food required to feed the population. However, “fighting has killed thousands of people and driven more than 1.3 million from their homes,” reported Reuters. They have been unable “to recover scattered livestock and rebuild looted markets.”
The United Nations has said up to four million people could be affected. Rain in the next few months will provide some food, such as fish and wild plants, however, the seasonal rains annually turn the nation’s dirt roads into impassable mud, making it impossible for aid trucks to bring in supplemental food.
Additionally, “In the vacuum of power ... anybody with a gun really decides to set up a business stopping trucks as they go by and extracting bribes,” said a charity worker.
South Sudan gained independence from the predominantly Muslim Republic of the Sudan in 2011 after decades of conflict approaching genocide. Millions of black tribal South Sudanese were killed by marauding militia financed by the Arab north – seemingly pursuing a tactic of racial cleansing, wiping out entire villages, then forcing surviving women and children into slavery in the north.
Thousands of South Sudanese boys – often as young as five – roamed the countryside, orphaned after their families were murdered while the boys were herding their villages’ goats and other livestock. Called the “lost boys of Sudan,” many walked hundreds of miles to refugee camps in Kenya and Uganda.
Amid the current crisis, the lack of a strong United States presence in peace talks has encouraged China to take the lead, according to Drazen Jorgic reporting for Reuters. “China is swapping its reserved diplomacy for a hands-on approach to help resolve a more than five-month-old rebellion in South Sudan that threatens Beijing's oil investments.
“The subtle change has been evident in months of faltering peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, where Chinese officials have been in regular contact with Western diplomats to help regional African mediators push for a halt to fighting.
“With China now Africa's biggest trading partner, Beijing could face pressure to extend its new approach to other regions of Africa where it has growing economic interests.
Publication date: June 5, 2014