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South Sudan’s crisis explained : 5 things you need to know

This Lent our campaign is highlighting the stories of Awut and Ajak, two women who have fled the fighting in South Sudan. Both of them have lost their husbands and are now struggling to survive and feed their families, having left everything behind them. There are many similar devastating human stories behind South Sudan’s brutal conflict. Simply put, South Sudan is one of the most difficult places in the world to live. Here we explain in more detail the background to this conflict and how it has affected millions of people.

Joseph Malis, 39, holds his daughter in Bidi Bidi refugee camp, Uganda. Photo : Tommy Trenchard Joseph Malis, 39, holds his daughter in Bidi Bidi refugee camp, Uganda. Photo : Tommy Trenchard

1. What is the background to the conflict in South Sudan?

South Sudan is a land familiar with conflict for decades. When the Republic of Sudan gained independence in 1956, internal tensions between northern and southern Sudan were never far from the surface.

Between 1955 and 2005, there were only eleven years where Sudan was not in civil war. A peace agreement was finally signed in January 2005, bringing to an end the long and bloody conflict, costing what is estimated to be in excess of 2 million lives.

Then, a referendum held in January 2011 saw the people of South Sudan vote overwhelmingly for independence from the north. Independence gave hope that a new and peaceful chapter could start. Sadly, the country has remained wracked with violence and hunger. South Sudan is the world’s newest country but also one of the most troubled.

Conflict never really disappeared from South Sudan, with disputes over resources (oil) and territory continuing to cause tensions and disputes. A civil war in South Sudan itself then erupted in late 2013, and has more or less continued ever since. Conflict, poverty and hunger remain the daily reality for people.

 

South Sudanese refugee children carry water through Bidi Bidi camp in Uganda. Photo : Tommy Trenchard South Sudanese refugee children carry water through Bidi Bidi camp in Uganda. Photo : Tommy Trenchard

2. Has the peace agreement ended the violence?

The latest peace agreement was signed in 2018, and efforts to implement this agreement continue with some sporadic success, amid numerous outbreaks of fighting and brutal violence, often against civilians.

Many international actors, including the Vatican and Pope Francis, have attempted to support moves for peace in the region. Pope Francis held a retreat in the Vatican in 2019, and invited many South Sudanese leaders, including President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and vice president designates Riek Machar and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabio.

A unity government has been in place since February 2020. However, this government has failed to stop the violence. According to the UN, hundreds have been killed and injured, and over 80,000 displaced by fighting in many areas in 2020.

There is localised violence including cattle raiding, revenge attacks, destruction of property and looting. Revenge attacks have included killings of children, burning of houses and rape and sexual exploitation of women.

 

Lakot Linda (62) arrived in Palabek refugee camp from South Sudan with her 4 grandchildren and she is the sole provider for the entire family. Photo : Sarah Fretwell Lakot Linda (62) arrived in Palabek refugee camp from South Sudan with her 4 grandchildren and she is the sole provider for the entire family. Photo : Sarah Fretwell

3. What has been the human cost of this conflict?

Due to the conflict, four million people have been forced to flee their homes and become refugees. Many are internally displaced within South Sudan, with many more having fled the country to find safety in neighbouring countries. Large numbers of people fled to northern Uganda, and now live in refugee camps.

Humanitarian needs in South Sudan are amongst the worst in the world. The conflict has exacerbated an already very fragile food situation. With so many of South Sudan’s people living below the poverty line – not to mention the worsening impacts of climate change – hunger was already a huge problem. Displacement and violence have made this worse.

Average life expectancy in South Sudan is only 57. The average numbers of years of schooling is only 5. In the Human Development Index, South Sudan is placed at 186 out of 189 countries. Education has been severely impacted by successive years of conflict, economic instability, displacement and widespread flooding.

Life here is incredibly challenging.

 

South Sudanese refugee Tabu Ruth brings water to her father, outside the family’s new home in Bidi Bidi camp. Photo : Tommy Trenchard South Sudanese refugee Tabu Ruth brings water to her father, outside the family’s new home in Bidi Bidi camp. Photo : Tommy Trenchard

4. What lies ahead for South Sudan?

The Humanitarian situation looks likely to worsen in 2021 as the country faces three major crises at the same time: the impact of years of recurring conflict and violence, the impact of climate breakdown on people’s ability to grow food, and now the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year, things are looking particularly bleak with over 8 million people estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance. That’s around seven in ten people in the whole country.

Covid restrictions have devastated the already fragile economy. Many people who live by earning a daily wage were caught unprepared, and the most vulnerable do not have enough to eat. Many do not have clean water to drink – let alone to wash their hands.

However, this week, South Sudan received its first batch of Covid vaccines. Although only 135,000 vaccines have been received, this will help inoculate frontline health workers and vulnerable older people. More batches are expected in coming months. This is a badly needed ray of hope for this troubled country.

 

Established home made from mud inside Palabek reufgee camp in Uganda. Photo : Sarah Fretwell Established home made from mud inside Palabek reufgee camp in Uganda. Photo : Sarah Fretwell

5. How does your support help people affected by this conflict?

Thanks to your generous support, we can provide life-saving essential aid, and help people to rebuild their lives. As well as providing immediate humanitarian aid, we also promote peacebuilding and reconciliation.

 

Yaka Lucia with her baby Rosa in Palabek refugee camp in Uganda. Yaka is a refugee who fled from South Sudan's civil war. Trócaire is supporting people like Lucia to grow crops to provide food and income. Photo : Sarah Fretwell Yaka Lucia with her baby Rosa in Palabek refugee camp in Uganda. Yaka is a refugee who fled from South Sudan's civil war. Trócaire is supporting people like Lucia to grow crops to provide food and income. Photo : Sarah Fretwell
Ajak and her family feature on this year’s Trócaire box. They are one of millions of South Sudanese families displaced by war in their country. Photo : Achuoth Deng Ajak and her family feature on this year’s Trócaire box. They are one of millions of South Sudanese families displaced by war in their country. Photo : Achuoth Deng

Your support provides people in South Sudan with:

Emergency aid : We provide food, water, sanitation facilities to affected communities. We also provide humanitarian support to South Sudanese refugees living in Uganda and DR Congo.

Longer term development :  As well as providing immediate humanitarian relief, we also work with communities on long-term projects to improve food production.

Peace-building : we support peacebuilding and reconciliation in conflict-affected areas, for example by negotiating shared grazing rights between cattle herders to reduce conflict and tensions.

These projects have a huge impact for families like Awut and Ajak. Thank you so much for your support to this life-saving work.

This year, Trócaire’s Lent campaign will help to support people affected by conflict in countries like South Sudan, Syria and Myanmar. If you are in a position to do so, please consider donating to our appeal. It can change lives and save lives. Thank you.

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