In war-torn South Sudan, famine is rampant

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Women unload emergency food aid in Akobo, South Sudan. The nation, founded in 2011, faces catastrophic famine made worse by food imports disrupted by war in Ukraine. (Photo: Paul Jeffrey, ICS)

HEIGHTS OF PERSPECTIVE – Until about two weeks ago, many citizens of South Sudan were preparing to travel more than 200 miles to greet Pope Francis and his trip to African countries.

South Sudan is the newest nation in the world, but it came into existence in 2011 with worsening problems, such as civil war and famine. About half of South Sudan’s 11 million people are Catholics, who hoped Pope Francis’ visit, scheduled for July 5-7, would inspire reconciliation in the war that has exacerbated food shortages.

The trip was billed as an “ecumenical” pilgrimage, with the participation of Presbyterian and Anglican leaders. The itinerary included an earlier stopover in the Congo. But a nagging knee ailment forced Pope Francis to postpone.

“The coming of the Holy Father was our only hope because of the respect people have for him,” said Mary Akol Chok, mother of three and teacher in Rumbek, South Sudan.

“He would have talked to our leaders,” Chok told the Catholic News Service. “There could have been reconciliation and peace. The people of this country have endured pain for a long time and we have never known happiness as people.

However, this week the Vatican press office announced that Pope Francis would send his secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to Africa in his place.

“Following the postponement of his apostolic journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, Pope Francis has decided to send Cardinal Parolin to Kinshasa and Juba in order to show his closeness to the beloved peoples of Congo and South Sudan. South Sudan,” the press office announced June 27. Cardinal Parolin’s visit will take place from July 1-8.

Ed Clancy, outreach director for Brooklyn-based Aid to the Church in Need, said such visits from the Holy See are essential to “help people rebuild hope.

“[South Sudan is] “An impoverished country, and in places where there is great poverty, institutions like churches become super important,” Clancy said. “These are almost always the places to go when people need resources. Sure, it’s a poor church. They need help. They cannot survive alone.

South Sudan became an independent nation 11 years ago with a vote to secede. It used to be a southern part of Sudan, but its population was predominantly Christian and the target of modern-day slave traders. Clancy said the Sudanese government did little to control the violence, which resulted in the secession vote.

But South Sudan was born with inherent problems, such as an arid environment hostile to food production. And recently, when it rained, the hardened ground lost runoff, causing catastrophic flooding that worsened an ongoing refugee crisis caused by the civil war.

Pope Francis kisses the feet of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on April 11, 2019. The incident fueled enthusiasm for the pope’s planned visit to the troubled country in July. (Photo: Vatican Media via Reuters, CNS)

This armed conflict is described as a political dispute between Vice President Riek Machar, a member of the second largest ethnic group, the Nuer, and President Salva Kiir, who belongs to the largest tribe, the Dinka.

The pair were part of a spiritual retreat at the Vatican in 2019 during which Pope Francis bowed to them, kissed their feet and urged a peaceful reconciliation. The incident fueled excitement for the now-postponed Pope’s visit.

Meanwhile, humanitarian group CARE International reported on June 21 that more than 7.7 million people in South Sudan were at risk of worsening food security. An estimated 87,000 of them fall into the worst classification – “catastrophic”.

“In addition to the lack of food and growing hunger, South Sudan is also facing a worsening malnutrition crisis, especially among pregnant women, lactating women and young children,” said Abel Whande. , CARE Country Director for South Sudan. “This year, we have so far treated 26,460 malnourished children in 49 health centers.”

CARE also noted that South Sudan is suffering from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which produces most of the wheat consumed in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This war greatly reduced the export of Ukrainian wheat and other food products.

“Urgent funding is needed to be able to address this worsening hunger crisis,” Whande said in a statement.

Clancy agreed, saying, “I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but we’re called to help. And the problem with the Church is that we don’t just help Christians. The presence of the Catholic Church means… helping everyone. The first thing is to support widows, people from broken homes and places of exploitation that provide meals for children.

ACN works in this area, while the Manhattan-based Catholic Medical Missions Board works to provide medical care to women and children in South Sudan. For more information about these efforts, visit churchinneed.org and cmmb.org.

This article includes reporting by Tonny Onyulo, Catholic News Service.

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