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The terrifying civilian impact of the South Sudan crisis

By Simon Mwebaze

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

South Sudan is the youngest democracy in the world. But after going through a civil war that ended in 2011, leading to the establishment of a democracy, the country plummeted right back into battle again in 2013. The country has been at war ever since. It has now been 11 years of war accompanied by several adverse effects on the country and its population. 

The crisis is responsible for the largest refugee problem in Africa since the Rwandan genocide. It is also the third worst refugee crisis in the world. Some of the negative effects of the crisis include displacement of people, violence, economic decline, and food insecurity. 

The most direct impact of most wars is violent attacks. The violence in South Sudan has steadily continued without any reduction. This is concerning because, in 2018, the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan was signed. Despite the agreement there have been an average of 733 reported violent incidents annually since 2017. In 2021, the violent attacks continued to exceed previous years, including 2019 and 2020.

One of the focal points of the violence is Central Equatoria. It averages 180 violent episodes per year, a quarter of the national average. Other areas affected significantly by the violence include Western Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Warrap States, Lakes, Unity, and Jonglei. 

The violence has led to several million South Sudanese fleeing their homes. Over 4 million South Sudanese have become refugees. 2.3 million have left the country. Another 1.8 million have been internally displaced within South Sudan. They have fled to other neighboring countries in Africa including Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the major reasons why South Sudanese are fleeing is because, since 2018, more civilians are victims of the war than actual battle combatants. 

The refugees majorly consist of women and children, who account for 80% of the total refugees. The children constitute a startling and worrying 63% of the refugees.

The number of children affected is worrying because of the ripple effects they suffer due to displacement. Some of the challenges they face as a result include a lack of developmental essentials such as school, nutritious meals, and playtime with friends. More so, they are susceptible to forced labor, abuse, abduction, and sexual violence and exploitation. These experiences have long-term negative effects that distort their psychological, intellectual, and social development. 

It gets worse when you consider these disturbing facts about South Sudanese children. 1 in 10 die by the age of five; 31% suffer stunting due to malnutrition; 62% are out of school, and 71% of girls (ages 15+) struggle to read and write; 5% of girls (ages 15-19) are married, and 1 in 16 give birth. More so, 37% of children have been displaced, and 66% of people live in poverty.

With consistent violence and displacement, many economic activities have been disrupted. Farming is the major economic activity of 95% of South Sudanese people. South Sudan already has flooding challenges which make their main economic activity difficult. But with the addition of civil attacks and strategic use of road infrastructure for attacks, economic activity from trading food and goods has become dangerous and difficult. 

With food challenges and insecure road networks to transport food across the country, South Sudanese also have food insecurity. Since 2014, the number of South Sudanese facing food insecurity has been rising. Up to 6.3 million people, accounting for 63% of the population, face acute food insecurity with 100,000 facing famine. The violence and displacement has made it difficult for South Sudanese to plant, harvest, transport, and access food they need to survive.

The main areas affected by the food insecurity include Warrap, Upper Nile, Jonglei, and Pibor. Due to the conflict, transportation networks to these areas have been disrupted. More so, the areas mentioned are susceptible to flooding, making their situation more dire.

While a large number of South Sudanese have been able to escape to neighboring countries, a majority live in camps. A minor number of South Sudanese, 8%, live in individual accommodations. The burden of hosting refugees is shared by their neighbors. Uganda hosts one million refugees, which is the largest number of hosted refugees. That is followed by Sudan, which hosts 800,000 refugees. 

The conditions in the camps are far from ideal, too. Many have poor sanitary conditions, poor education, and a lack of employment opportunities. While NGOs in partnerships with local governments and communities are doing their best, funding shortages among other things make it difficult to adequately care for refugees.

The hope of peace in South Sudanese looks grim, which means this refugee burden may remain for the long-term.

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Simon Mwebaze

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