South Sudan (MNN) — South Sudan’s slow-moving peace talks have been suspended again. When the talks reconvene in a few weeks, both the opposition and the government will sign an agreement outlining the ground rules before they talk peace.
They did sign a cessation of hostilities agreement in late January, before the first round of talks ended. What was supposed to be an immediate ceasefire failed before it ever got started. The second round of talks never really got off the ground again, even as fighting continued in South Sudan.
Jeff Palmer, executive director at Baptist Global Response, says the fighting has been costly. What’s more, the situation deteriorated faster than anticipated. “Within the country itself–South Sudan, a lot of people are displaced. We’re doing some projects with them, but now we’re looking at several large refugee populations outside that have gone to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda.”
There’s nothing orderly about the new camps springing up overnight. “The camps are just whatever they can throw together: small communities, lacking basic access to water–which is what we’re going to concentrate on in the next couple of weeks, just making sure that we have good water, but food supplies are low.”
Farmers can’t get back to their fields, so even if a ceasefire happened tomorrow, a food crisis would still emerge in a couple of months. Meanwhile, Palmer confirms the desperation of the refugees. “Those reports that you heard about people eating grass, weeds, whatever they can find: that’s exactly what’s happening.”
Their team just wrapped up an assessment trip in an area that has been overlooked, says Palmer. “80,000-100,000 are what we’re estimating in 20 ‘camps.’ Some folks are in there, like BGR, trying to help, but it’s massive. You can’t combine the peoples because most of them come from different people groups.”
Humanitarian aid can’t keep up with the demand. The United Nations says just a third of the requested $1.27 billion has been raised for the crisis. If unchecked, the UN warned that the country could become the scene of the worst famine catastrophe in Africa since the 1980s. Most of the refugees are women and children, Palmer adds. “I think about 5% of the kids are unaccompanied minors just trying to find a safe place to be.”
Now that there’s more awareness of need, aid groups are starting to bring food in. BGR is focusing their efforts on the other issue: “Water is so critical because that part of the world is a fairly arid, semi-arid area. So, we hope to get them involved with that so they become a part of solving the problem as we put the deep wells in. And we’ll be sharing the gospel as we go: sharing water, but sharing about the Living Water.”
Palmer goes on to say that many of these temporary encampments have a lot of Christians. “Our hope is to rally those believers that are there, even though many of them are in refugee camps, and then to get them involved in helping to solve their own problems.” Then they can share their stories with others; it becomes a way to share the hope of Christ, through the Christians.
Outreach has been disrupted with whole population shifts. However, that can provide other opportunities. Palmer urges, “Don’t forget about South Sudan. Pray for our workers who are going to go in and help get water established in about four out of these twenty camps that are in critical need right now. Pray for the Lord of the Harvest to raise up resources so that we can get the water to the people.”