On a visit to South Sudan, Christian Aid chair Dr Rowan Williams found a young nation beset by hunger and violence, when it deserves support and stability.
Last December, violence erupted yet again in South Sudan. Indiscriminate killing, the use of child soldiers and sexual violence all became common.
More than 1.7 million people fled their homes and land. About 10,000 were killed. More than 100,000 ended up in camps run by the UN.
Tomping is one such camp, not far from Juba airport. No one knows how many people live here, but it is at least 11,000 – with perhaps a quarter of these being school-aged children.
Nearly 2 million people have been receiving humanitarian aid in recent months.
But it is hard to coordinate and hard to deliver. Local militias, and sometimes local officials, may be obstructive or demand ‘taxes’ for the movement of supplies.
The camps have no electrical power or sewage system and no refrigeration for medical supplies. Schools are almost non-existent.
Movement around the country is hard, and the spectre of waterborne diseases and malaria is looming.
On top of this, a whole year of food production has been lost. Food is already a problem, even in the camps, with severe shortages that could ultimately affect several million people.
South Sudan was created after more than half a century of bloody civil war; most people under 50 have never known anything but conflict. It’s not just a matter of aid, it’s about creating a new approach to living together.
This means working with the churches – the most trusted agents in society because of their courage and steadfastness through the decades of war – to help educate people in basic skills such as farming and business, enabling the creation of infrastructure, roads and electricity, and above all to build mutual trust.
The church leaders here share the trauma of the people, and yet they do not despair. They live in hope and are putting their efforts into building peace.
An appeal to our government needs to emphasise not only the terrible urgency of work to mitigate the effects of hunger, but also the urgency of the long-term goal of nation building.
This involves investing in strengthening the voice and the capacity of the people of South Sudan – who are desperate for stability.
Charities such as ours are working in partnership with a range of South Sudanese groups. These people, like the church leaders I know, help me believe that South Sudan can have a future. But it can’t happen without help, especially in the face of famine.
It isn’t difficult to ask yourself if you can make a difference by donating to their work. It isn’t difficult to write to your MP and urge them to press our government to step up its efforts for peace and for humanitarian help.
If you belong to a church, it isn’t difficult to find projects that seek to meet the small-scale but real local needs that the churches in South Sudan are dealing with – and to pray for them daily.
There are plenty of tragedies on our screens right now. It’s easy for another long-running disaster in an obscure part of the globe to be forgotten.
But Africa – and the world – can’t afford another failed state, another flood of refugees, another breeding ground for extremism and anger.
The message from all those I talked with, especially in the camps, was simple: tell them what it’s like. And tell them to pray and to act.
All I can do is to pass those words on. We have a chance to do something before the food crisis worsens dramatically.
I hope with all my heart that we can take it.
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Our work in South Sudan