Why South Sudan is reaching a breaking point

South Sudan has faced many challenges since it was formed in 2011. Today, the world’s youngest nation is dealing with ongoing conflict, widespread hunger, flooding and the coronavirus pandemic.

To share how you can pray for the work God is doing in South Sudan at this critical time, Tearfund UK News Editor, Andrew Horton, spoke with Anthony Rama, who leads Tearfund’s work in the region.

"Wading through mud"

Andrew began by asking about the flooding in Jonglei State which began in mid-2020 and has been the worst seen there for 60 years. Tearfund runs feeding centers in the area for young children, new mothers and pregnant women, but the floods have meant these centers have been forced to close for many months.

‘In Twic East, Jonglei State, we have eight feeding centers. By December last year, [our teams] could reach none of those feeding centers. Since December, we have only been able to access two,’ shares Anthony.

‘The waters have receded, but they have not receded to the point that you can drive. The team has to walk on foot, wade their way through mud and water to make sure that they can reach these feeding centers and so that we can start thinking about renovating them.’

The floods in Jonglei state have forced 25,000 people to flee their homes and find refuge in camps in nearby Mangalla. ‘People told us the last time flooding of that scale happened was in 1961,’ says Anthony.

Severe flooding in Jonglei State | Credit: Paul Mabior/Tearfund
Severe flooding in Jonglei State | Credit: Paul Mabior/Tearfund

Dirty water

‘The other challenge is that all the water points have been contaminated. So now we are trying to repair and rehabilitate these water points, and treat them so that the communities can again be able to access clean water.’

The effects of the flooding are a further burden on the South Sudanese people, many of whom are already struggling with hunger. ‘About half of the population, basically, is in very dire need of food assistance,’ Anthony tells us.

Right now, 6.6 million people in South Sudan don’t have enough food and are relying on support from organizations such as Tearfund.

‘Our prayer is that we would find the resources to be able to provide life-saving food assistance to the people who need this most.

‘This would mean providing supplementary feeding at the nutrition centers that we are responsible for. We would also want to be able to repair water points that have been destroyed because of the flooding.’

Hoping for peace

Getting all of this support to people who need it, is being made even harder by the ongoing conflict, which began in 2013. There are signs of hope after a unity government was formed in February 2020, but fighting continues between some communities.

‘The people of South Sudan are tired, they are really, really tired,’ says Anthony. ‘People are asking for peace. The South Sudanese people are not asking to be given handouts.

‘They are really asking for that space that they can settle down. They say: “If I am a farmer, I plant, and I should harvest my produce. I should not be worried about the journey from my house to the market point to sell my produce. That should be safe.” Those are the things that worry the people in South Sudan.’

Locked down

When coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March last year, the South Sudanese government enforced protective lockdown measures. It meant non-essential businesses were asked to close, places of public gathering were shut, and markets were largely closed.

‘Businesses, small as they were, were lost. Even the movement of cargo was difficult. And what happened was that food prices went up by about 180 per cent. And yet, salaries and incomes didn’t change.’

These multiple crises are pushing parts of South Sudan to the brink of famine.

Never give up

Tearfund's priorities continue to be saving lives, building peace and restoring hope in the country and churches are crucial in these efforts.

‘Even as we do the most life-saving assistance, we continue to work with the local church to ensure that [they] are at the forefront in mobilizing local communities on reconciliation.

‘The church remains important because it understands the challenges in these communities, and is the best partner to work with in terms of guiding the right solutions to the problems in those areas.’

Anthony told us he has been inspired and encouraged by the people of this struggling nation. ‘The spirit of the South Sudanese people reminds us never to give up. They are resilient people who are looking forward to a future where their families and their children can be raised in peace and stability. I think that is the wish of anybody in any part of the world.

‘Let's support the South Sudanese people at this moment. I am hopeful that a time is coming – and probably not in the very distant future – that the people of South Sudan can take a positive turn from this history of difficulties.’

Please pray

  • Lift up the people of South Sudan, particularly young children, new mothers and pregnant women who became more vulnerable as feeding centers were closed due to the flooding.
  • Ask God to help Tearfund staff as they start renovating the feeding centers and repair the water points.
  • Pray for lasting peace and an end to the coronavirus pandemic – both desperately needed to help people restart their businesses and feed their families.