In 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, marking an end to Africa's longest-running civil war. But two years later, violent conflict broke out after political disagreement between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar and the fighting continues to this day. The civil war has forced millions to flee their homes – an estimated 1.9 million are internally displaced and over two million more have fled to neighbouring countries.
Here are five things you should know about the conflict:
1. Risk of famine
The conflict has damaged the country’s economy, contributing to soaring inflation. As a consequence, food prices continue to rise and 70 per cent of families in South Sudan go hungry. As many as 6.3 million people are severely food insecure. These numbers are expected to rise as the lean season progresses.
Famine was declared in 2017 and although humanitarian aid resulted in famine being reversed, current food security levels are now much worse. Many markets are closed, and farmers have been displaced from their land. Food is scarce and often prohibitively expensive, meaning thousands are in dire need of assistance. Despite this, South Sudan’s aid appeal is only 21 per cent funded halfway through the year.
2. Unsuccessful peace process
Despite a peace agreement signed by the warring parties in August 2015, the population of South Sudan has yet to see an end of fighting. Conflict has resulted in a sharp rise in the number of people fleeing their homes and basic infrastructure such as health and education facilities have been destroyed.
The international and regional community needs to be united in supporting the current peace process. Rather than a small group of elites, the focus must be on helping ordinary people. Their voices must be heard as they bear the brunt of the conflict. Without stability, meaningful positive change cannot be realised. Everyone needs to work together for real reconciliation.
3. Conflict is threatening civilian lives
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan as a direct result of the current conflict and millions have been forced to flee. Many more are likely to flee their homes in the coming months if the situation does not stabilise.
Civilians are the main victims of the fighting, looting and ambushes. A lack of access to aid further exacerbates an already bleak situation. Conflict has caused health facilities to routinely face shortages of key medical supplies putting further civilian lives in danger. The fighting has also compounded food insecurity with malnutrition becoming a greater threat to many.
4. Humanitarian access must improve
In some areas in the country, the population is unable to receive any humanitarian aid because there is active conflict or because aid has been cut off. It is every agency’s mission to reach people in need, however the current fighting makes some areas inaccessible.
In April this year, conflict forced the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to cancel critical food distributions in Unity State. Multiple aid compounds and health centres have been looted across the country. Armed groups must allow humanitarian agencies free, safe and unhindered access to people in need.
5. Dangerous for humanitarian workers
South Sudan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarian workers. Since the war began in 2013, 101 aid workers have been killed in the country. Since December 2017, a total of 22 aid workers have been abducted. In April alone, three humanitarian staff were killed and 13 were abducted.
The impact of this insecurity does not just affect humanitarian workers, but also the people they are trying to reach. Lives are lost when aid cannot be delivered because aid workers are forced to evacuate or are unable to work in areas with critical needs because of ongoing conflict.
NRC has been in South Sudan since 2004. Last year we provided aid to 648,207 people through our work with food security and livelihoods, water, sanitation, hygiene, emergency education, and information, counselling and legal assistance.