We look at what it would mean to have a lasting peace in the world’s youngest nation.
Five years have now passed since the start of the brutal civil war in South Sudan which has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and millions having to flee from their homes with nothing.
In September, a peace agreement was signed by the warring parties. But it is the 12th attempted peace deal since 2013, and with multiple armed groups still active in the country, conflict and instability remains widespread. These are just a few of the reasons, why a lasting peace is needed in South Sudan.
The fear of attack and murder has meant that people have had to abandon their land – and their only means of growing food. The war has also led to an economic crisis where food is unaffordable, and conflict has made it difficult for enough humanitarian aid get into the country and reach the people who need it most.
Today, as we look towards Christmas, more than 6 million people in South Sudan are facing severe hunger. That’s almost the entire population on the island of Ireland not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
South Sudan remains the largest refugee crisis in Africa.
When fighting broke out, millions of people in South Sudan had no choice but to flee for their lives. 2.2 million people fled to neighbouring countries where they are living in refugee camps, and another 2 million are internally displaced within South Sudan. The South Sudanese want to return home but cannot until it is safe and secure. They need a chance to rebuild their lives and lose no more loved ones to conflict.
For children under five in South Sudan, all they have known is the trauma of war. They need a chance to live a happy life, playing freely. Older children also need to get back to the classroom. They have goals and aspirations and education is the only way for children to escape the cycle of poverty and have a brighter future.
Assaults on women are widespread in South Sudan, and typical everyday activities such as working in their gardens or walking to collect firewood is immensely dangerous for women. The UN has reported that sexual violence has escalated dramatically this year with attacks by soldiers and rebels commonplace.
Many older South Sudanese, such as 85 year old Gildo had to walk for days, and even weeks to find safety. He was in his garden when the fighting broke out and despite having a bad back, he had to run immediately, hiding in the bushes as he travelled to avoid the rebels.
This is the second time he has had to flee over the last five years. Gildo, and others like him, deserve to live in peace and comfort, with access to adequate medical treatment.
The children, women and men of South Sudan deserve a better future – we must not forget them this Christmas. Trócaire is working on the ground in South Sudan, and we are asking for your help - to offer support by providing food, water, shelter and safety to those affected by conflict.
Photos by Mark Stedman