Monday, October 06, 2014

South Sudan - The Man-made Famine

In South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar are seen by many as dragging the country towards the abyss. Thousands have been killed and nearly two million have fled their homes since their war broke out last December. Oxfam and other agencies have warned that an expected upsurge in violence could wipe out recent gains in food security and push the number of severely hungry people up by a million in the first three months of 2015. Describing it as a shift from crisis to catastrophe, they say parts of the country could slide into man-made famine early next year. Nearly 100,000 people are crammed into UN compounds across the country for their own protection, often in inhumane and unsanitary conditions. But the biggest crisis in Akobo, he says, is food security. Harvests, markets and trade routes have been disrupted. One in three children are acutely malnourished, with consequences including increased vulnerability to malaria and failure to attend school. A small paracetamol tablet has risen in price from 10 to 25 South Sudanese pounds (roughly $3 to $8). Food is also scarce.

Peace remains a distant prospect, with Kiir and Machar seemingly hellbent on a military solution. Kiir told the UN general assembly last month: “The conflict in South Sudan is purely a political struggle for power, not an ethnic conflict as reported.” Yet violence has broken out along ethnic lines in many parts of the country, pitting forces loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, against those of his former deputy Machar, a Nuer.

Koang Rambang, Akobo’s county commissioner, predicts famine and even genocide said  “People call us the rebels but this is the resistance movement to the onslaught, the killings by Salva Kiir. I have no interest in rebelling to go running in the bush for no reason. But if someone wants to kill me because I am Nuer, then I have no choice.”
While in predominantly Dinka areas of South Sudan there are similar accounts of brutal treatment at the hands of the Nuers.

 A report last month by the Enough Project noted: “The country’s competing privileged elites are sacrificing their own people’s lives to secure the political and economic benefits – including massive state-corroding corruption – derived from control of the state.” Political and military leaders maintain “lavish homes” in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa and Australia, the report continued. “Families of the leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties are living in neighbouring countries and their children are attending the finest schools available. Meanwhile, the education system back in South Sudan has collapsed.” The Enough Project has called for punitive measures including seizing the homes, bank accounts and shell companies of anyone undermining the peace process.

Tariq Reibl, head of Oxfam’s programme in South Sudan, said: “If famine comes to South Sudan it will come through the barrel of a gun. This is a man-made crisis, not one caused by the vagaries of the weather, and though humanitarian aid is vital it cannot fix a political problem.
“The international community is much better at saving lives than it is at helping solve the political problems that put lives in peril. Nine months of the softly-softly approach to peace negotiations has failed. If the international community really wants to avert a famine then it has to make bold diplomatic efforts to bring both sides to end the fighting.”

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