South Sudan (MNN/BGR) — The ceasefire in South Sudan failed before it ever got started, and efforts to resuscitate it are not going well.
Fresh fighting erupted six days ago as peace talks re-opened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 24 hours later, talks sputtered to a halt with rival leaders blaming each other for the violence.
Aside from the obvious, the impact of delayed peace is seen on the ground in the refugee camps. Oxfam estimates that 2.5 million people are at risk of severe hunger within the next three weeks. Humanitarian aid can’t keep up with the growing demand. Even if a ceasefire happened tomorrow, a food crisis would still emerge because farmers can’t get back to their fields.
Tens of thousands are displaced into about 30 refugee camps located in extremely inhospitable areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. The makeshift camps lack basic access to clean water, and food supplies are low.
So here’s a question for you: did you know this was happening? Jeff Palmer with Baptist Global Response says this man-made disaster is similar to Syria in theory, but without the attention. “There’s been fighting in the area for years (some of the things that lead up to it becoming a new country). Then, when it becomes something that becomes more of an internal conflict, or among people groups (tribes), and there are bigger things on the scene like Syria, or Ebola, or those kinds of things, eyes get turned away from a crisis like South Sudan.”
How does a moving flow of millions of people fleeing a civil war get missed? It’s not the kind of crisis that hits the heart string, Palmer theorizes. He says natural disasters like the Haiti earthquake or the military response to ISIS, or things like Boko Haram mass kidnappings and executions are more interesting than a war that looks like part of the landscape.
Instead, “You’re still looking at a country with 50% of the population not having adequate access to clean drinking water. So, you put the newness of the country, you put the pre-existing poverty, you put the armed conflict, and you put the tribal splits that are going on, and it’s a recipe for disaster.” Since 2011, there’s only been fighting over natural resources, which devolved into fighting between Dinka and Nuer, Christian and Muslim, and more.
A BGR partner team conducted an assessment trip in an area that has been overlooked, and they found partners to coordinate a response project, which quickly turned into more. “We’ve got some water projects, especially along the outside border areas; but inside South Sudan, we’re working with some communities, with school lunch programs, nutrition, where there is a little bit of stability, trying to get kids back to school and getting them fed.”
The earlier question (Did you know this was happening?) has a follow-up: Why should you care? Palmer offers these thoughts: “I would say that the Spirit and the love of Christ in our hearts should move us towards compassion for those who are suffering, both for our brothers [and] sisters who are suffering, as well as for others who have never heard the Name.”
Palmer says through their local partners, followers of Christ have a chance to be part of the solution. That involves not only meeting the immediate survival needs of food, shelter, and water, but also, providing hope to cling to (click here to help). “We do it in a way to show the love of Christ, both to the believers who are struggling in this area as well as unbelievers.”