Crisis and famine in South Sudan: Jesuit Missions' response

Refugees at Jamam Camp, South Sudan: Wikimedia Commons
Refugees at Jamam Camp, South Sudan: Wikimedia Commons

The Jesuits are responding to the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan and other regions of Africa, where the United Nations has warned that 100,000 people are facing starvation. Even before Monday’s declaration that South Sudan is in the grip of a famine and the UK Government’s announcement of £200 million in aid to the country and to Somalia, Jesuit agencies have been distributing food, water and medical supplies and have been supplying humanitarian aid to thousands of communities.

The Jesuits have been working in particular among the tens of thousands of children and teachers in Sudanese refugee camps, providing education and an alternative to recruitment as child soldiers. And on Wednesday, Pope Francis added his voice to the needs of the population of South Sudan. He demanded concrete action to get food aid to famine victims, saying words are not enough to prevent millions from being condemned to death by hunger. "At this time it's more necessary than ever for everyone to not just stop with words, but to take concrete action so that food aid can reach suffering populations," he said.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that a million people are on the brink of famine in the region, with UN agencies warning that war and a collapsing economy have left 100,000 people facing starvation. The UN has also warned that three other countries - Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria - are at risk. Its formal announcement means people have already started dying of hunger and that famine is already taking hold in parts of Unity State in the northern-central part of South Sudan.

The Jesuit in Eastern Africa say that the food shortage can be attributed to drought and to the fighting in South Sudan last summer. The Eastern African Province is looking at the possibility of making an intervention, but the Jesuit Centre that is nearest to Unity State is located several kilometers away in Rumbek where travel security is difficult and dangerous.

Displaced people in South Sudan. Pau Vidal/JRSHope for peace and reconciliation

South Sudan gained its independence in 2011; but since then, civil war, a refugee crisis and a collapsing economy have taken their toll on its population. Last year in Upper Nile, South Sudan, according to Jesuits in the region, a primary school student was more likely to find men armed with guns in their classrooms than teachers with chalk and books in hand. Since the most recent conflict in South Sudan erupted at the end of 2013, 1.7 million people have become internally displaced and millions of children have lost their chance to go to school. Displacement from home, severe malnutrition and poverty, recruitment into armed groups, and the constant fear of violence are perpetual interruptions to learning.

As well as providing immediate emergency relief, Jesuit Missions stays in areas of conflict to help with long-term development and disaster recovery. In South Sudan, the Jesuits are working to re-establish formal education after years of civil war. “Today, all over South Sudan there is a shared hope that the time has come for peace and reconciliation, and consequently the much needed stability and development in the country,” says Pau Vidal SJ, JRS Maban Project Director. “Some analysts, however, are very cautious and indicate that the situation is so fragile that a single bullet could bring the whole country back into war.”

This year, Jesuit Missions’ marathon runners will help fund the vital work of the Jesuit Refugee Service and other Jesuit agencies in South Sudan. The marathon will take place on Sunday 23 April 2017 and you can support the runners by visiting the Jesuit Missions website.

Updated 23 February 2017