South Sudan: breakthrough in talks

By October 23, 2014
(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

South Sudan (MNN) — South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar have reportedly reached a deal in Tanzania. The agreement should end hostilities that have left thousands of people dead, but it’s complicated.

The two sides accepted responsibility for South Sudan’s civil war and stressed that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), should be reunited. The 10-month war was between the army and defectors. However, the violence also became a tribal fight (Dinka vs. Nuer) and a sectarian conflict.

Sadly, since December, nearly two million people have fled their homes, including 1.4 million who remain displaced within South Sudan. It’s a far cry from the hopeful beginnings of July 2011 when South Sudan gained independence from Sudan.

The next question: will the agreement hold? There’s been a lull in recent fighting, and humanitarian groups aren’t sure if that’s because of heavy rains or conflict weariness. Due to that uncertainty, UN officials are concerned that next month’s dry season could see violence flare up again.

In the meantime, Jeff Palmer with Baptist Global Response says there are 30 refugee camps located in extremely inhospitable areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. Makeshift camps lack basic access to what’s needed to keep war survivors alive. An assessment earlier in the year revealed one part of the need. “There were definitely food issues, there were issues in South Sudan, but also there were issues outside for some of the refugees that had come out into Northern Uganda.”

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

Palmer says one issue “that we really identified was water. Since there were several other organizations working in the area, we decided that we would take the water sector.”

Rebuilding can’t happen without the right building blocks. First, there’s access to clean water. “We worked initially with three wells with the refugees, but then expanded that to six deep wells. In the end, it serviced almost 16 different camps.”

Sitting on the foundation of the clean water block are the tools for food production, like seeds.  Even if a ceasefire happened tomorrow, a food crisis would still emerge in South Sudan because of “decades of conflict: you’ve got disruption of people being moved from place to place, no time to have the whole season to plant and to harvest, and so you’ve got all kinds of food production issues.”

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

Vocation training plays a role in building the “new normal” for the displaced. So does education. BGR estimates that 5% of the kids are unaccompanied minors just trying to find a safe place. Palmer says there are “a lot of issues about education because of IDPs and relocations, and children’s schooling being disrupted. So we partnered to do some education initiatives, feeding of the school children so that they can stay in school, and some water and some income-generation projects.”

Why? After all they’ve been through, the survivors need to hope in a future. “As they’re responding to food, shelter, and water needs, working through a trusted local partner who is like-minded, like we are, is also a way to also ensure that there’s also a message of hope for the future, and that hope is in Jesus Christ.”

A generational grudge-match could undo any progress made in reunification, but few care. South Sudan just isn’t a priority in global concerns compared to Iraq, Syria, the Ebola crisis, and ISIS. Palmer acknowledges that, but he says that doesn’t lessen need or responsibility. “I know there’s a lot of things happening in the world, but don’t forget South Sudan. Keep praying for those in need. Keep praying for those responding. Keep supporting organizations like Baptist Global Response.”

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