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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

Crisis in South Sudan

Updated: May 17, 2021

Unfortunately, our world is filled with a number of humanitarian crises. Recently I was introduced to one such crisis in an unexpected way.

I’m a John Grisham fan and always look forward to reading his newest books shortly after they are released. While they often take months to receive when reserving them at our local library, I was pleasantly surprised when my wife presented me a copy of Grisham’s newest book, Sooley: A Novel that she found on the “new bookshelf” at our local library the other day.

While most of Grisham’s novels have a legal theme, this one is the story of a young boy from Sudan who is fortunate enough to find his way to America to play basketball. While this may sound like an innocuous theme, Grisham juxtaposes this story with the plight of Sooley’s family in South Sudan who have been displaced due to the turmoil that’s been taking place in that country.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, it piqued my interest to learn more about the plight of the Sudanese. Here are some highlights from various NGO websites on the current humanitarian crises.

South Sudan the newest country in the world, why are people fleeing?

South Sudan was established as a new country in 2011 after a deadly civil war. Unfortunately, only two years later, in 2013, conflict broke out in the new country, leading to a complex and dangerous situation of armed conflict, economic decline, disease and hunger. This conflict has forced millions to flee and left millions more displaced inside the country.

Who is fleeing South Sudan?

The vast majority (over 80 percent) of those fleeing South Sudan are women and children, with children making up 63 percent of the total South Sudanese refugee population. They are survivors of violent attacks, sexual assault and, in many cases, children have been separated from their parents and are traveling alone.

Where are South Sudanese refugees living now?

The majority of South Sudanese refugees are living in neighboring countries such as Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp and its expansion site, Kalobeyei settlement, host more than 106,000 South Sudanese refugees, one of the largest South Sudanese refugee populations in the world.

What’s the current status?

Right now, South Sudan faces the most challenging period since it gained independence a decade ago, with a converging set of crises including its highest-ever levels of food insecurity, repeated floods, armed conflict and a renewed wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased 10% since last year, to 8.3 million – more than 70% of the population. Over 60% of the population is projected to face crisis or worse levels of food insecurity. The coming “lean season” – from April to July, when households typically run out of stored food while awaiting the next harvest – threatens to be catastrophic. Communities in six of South Sudan’s 79 counties could face famine-like conditions.

Meanwhile, violence between armed groups is creating new waves of internally displaced people (IDP), adding to an IDP population already estimated at more than 1.6 million – not counting an additional 2.3 million who have fled South Sudan. For women and girls who are disproportionately affected by food scarcity and already subject to widespread gender-based violence, it also means facing even greater risks of abuse, exploitation, including sexual violence and early and forced marriages.

Compounding these issues, a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across South Sudan. While it is difficult to know the true number of cases or fatalities, there are anecdotal reports of a heavy death toll and the rate of positive COVID-19 tests jumped from 2.7% to 17.9% in the first six weeks of 2021. Displaced people, particularly in overcrowded camps, face elevated risks of contracting the virus.

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