As conflict ravages South Sudan, the nation’s children are bearing the brunt of the crisis: separated from their families, hungry and malnourished, not in school, and at risk of abuse and exploitation.
Michael Arunga, World Vision emergency communications advisor for Africa, looks back at the brief history of South Sudan and reflects on how this new nation came to its current situation.
The ghosts that struck Kenya after the 2007 elections are back. This time, they’ve swarmed the world’s newest nation of South Sudan. Worst hit are children. Reports indicate that more than half of the 1.1 million people displaced in-country, and another 386,800 who fled as refugees, are children!
The prognosis of South Sudan is a replica of what transpired in Kenya: killings, sexual violations, burned houses, plundering, refugee camps, and child-led households.
As a Kenyan, I felt the excitement as the world’s newest nation was born. Then, the entire country had erupted into loud ululations, dance, and songs. I joined in.
Today, everything has changed. I spent three weeks in South Sudan, covering the current crisis. I focused on Malakal, which has borne the brunt of this conflict.
Malakal is not the same place. It has been run down. What used to be a vibrant market is no more, as it was set ablaze. There is no one in that vicinity. Relief agencies, including our own World Vision, have faced looting and other difficulties.
One day in Malakal town, I witnessed Red Cross personnel loading corpses in polythene bags onto a truck. These were people killed during the conflict, their bodies left uncollected in homes. They were later buried in mass graves, without decent burials or relatives.
All over the town are military uniforms, boots, and suitcases that were either abandoned by those who fled or were killed. A swarm of vultures constantly hovers in the sky.
About 18,703 of those who fled are now hosted within the Malakal United Nations Mission in Sudan’s (UNMISS) compound (and almost 97,000 in UNMISS compounds across the country). People can be seen trekking along main roads, carrying luggage as they head to the camps. In these places, life is difficult. The living conditions are horrible.
Humanitarian agencies, including World Vision, are striving to reach out with relief rations, but the need outstrips supply. Desperate women and children are crying out for support.
Within the UNMISS camp, most areas of the Protection of Civilians (POC) area has a repugnant, choking smell: since the displaced people moved in, many of the latrines have filled up and are overflowing with human waste, risking a possible outbreak of killer diseases like cholera.
To stem off possible starvation, World Vision in conjunction with the World Food Program has distributed many tons of food to displaced people in Malakal and other sites.
I also proudly witnessed a World Vision distribution of items like blankets, sleeping mats, cooking sets, mosquito nets, water containers, plastic buckets, toothbrushes, toothpastes, soap, sanitary pads, cleaning towels, combs, and plastic bags. World Vision living its core value of being responsive!
All displaced people that I talked to are unanimous: they desire a peaceful South Sudan. Hardest hit are children; some are orphaned. Many roam the streets of the camp with a deep sense of loneliness. They have not adjusted to fending for themselves.
Most children were exposed to the ruthlessness of the conflict. They have suddenly been hauled into a rough new life. As many families line up to secure food at distribution sites, I saw a number of children alone.
The children within Malakal’s camp radiate with innocence. Two years ago, most of them were infants when their new nation reverberated with the joy of independence.
Unfortunately, the story is different now. Tension has gripped the nation, and many South Sudanese children are wondering when the situation will return to normal. They all know people killed during the conflict.
The children we spoke to are united in one appeal: their young nation urgently needs peace.
Fifteen-year old William Majuok is not happy. He has a fresh scar on his face, a stark reminder of the recent conflict.
“A stone hit my face. War is a very bad thing. It separated my family. We do not know where some members are, as they are not here at the displaced people camp with us,” he says.
William, who is in grade 5, said, “My family is now here within the displaced people camp, without water, food, and other essential requirements.”
Thirteen-year old Sunday Ukwich, in grade 6, is also bitter with the recent conflict. She cannot believe that life can change so drastically, within such a short period.
“It is good for children to go to school, as this is their future. Unfortunately, education here is not the major priority. Organizations such as World Vision are helping us with food, but we are all still in urgent need for more food, clean water, health facilities, and peace,” she says.
She describes the conflict as the worst experience of her life and says it has destabilized her family, and appeals to all warring factions to remember the children of South Sudan.
The conflict has led to a major humanitarian crisis across South Sudan, many of those affected being women and children. Humanitarian agencies are trying to alleviate the human suffering, but still require more than $1 billion to effectively respond to this crisis. The world must pay attention if South Sudan is to be saved.
Help World Vision alleviate the suffering of of children in South Sudan with much needed food and nutrition, water and sanitation, and other relief. Give to our South Sudan Disaster Relief Fund today.