People trudged along the main passageway through the United Nations’ Malakal Camp for Internally Displaced People in South Sudan in late July. The wet season makes life for hundreds of thousands of refugees very challenging, as bad weather can make roads and paths impassable, exacerbate the difficulties of distributing aid. Matthew Abbot/AP

It’s been a grim week for aid workers in South Sudan.

On Monday, a pro-government militia in the contested oil-producing state of Upper Nile shot dead an employee of the humanitarian group Norwegian People’s Aid. That murder was followed by the killings of five aid workers on Tuesday in the same region. Hundreds of others then evacuated the area, leaving behind 127,000 refugees who had depended on their assistance.

The killings underscore the immense difficulties humanitarians face in trying to save tens of thousands of lives. South Sudan’s civil war is pushing the country toward famine, intensifying the need for outside aid. Yet violence against aid workers has been a striking component of the seven-month war, now considered one of the world’s worst conflicts.

The United Nations warns that 3.9 million people need to be fed by year’s end or 230,000 children will suffer acute malnutrition and 50,000 could die. Farmers have missed the planting season because of fighting, and militiamen have looted food stocks meant for hundreds of thousands of civilians.

A massive aid machine – currently the world’s largest, according to the UN – is mobilizing to prevent that disaster scenario. But the barriers are high: Roads are nearly nonexistent here and are clogged by rainy season mud. Those needing food are dispersed across one of the world’s largest grass swamps. Agencies are a billion dollars short of funds, and fighting prevents workers from reaching the worst hit places. Read more…

People walk through the mud in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp inside the United Nations base in Malakal, South Sudan, July 25, 2014. Andreea Campeanu/REUTERS

With a season of unplanted crops in South Sudan and the United Nations declaring the food security crisis here “the worst in the world,” time is running out to prevent the death by starvation of as many as 50,000 people, analysts say, caught in what is now a seven month civil war.

Diplomats in the neighboring Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa today aim to restart negotiations to get government and rebel forces in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, to stop fighting – even as analysts worry the proliferation of militia groups has put much of the fighting beyond the control of political leaders.

More than 10,000 people have died and 1.5 million are displaced since deep animosity between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar broke into violence last December.

Farmers missed the planting season this spring due to fighting and aid groups are now struggling to reach hungry people, many of whom are caught in out-of-the-way places.

Aid agencies warn of famine before the end of the year if nothing is done to avert it. But already every day children are dying from malnutrition. Relief teams, unable to transport food by road due to rain, mud, and insecurity, have resorted to helicoptering supplies to people trapped by fighting in remote areas.

Humanitarian aid workers here say feeding programs must scale up to reach 3.9 million people in coming months or 230,000 children are in danger of acute malnutrition. They also warn that with South Sudan’s appeal for aid now running short a billion dollars, some life-saving programs will run out of funds by the end of September.  Read more…

Many people are forced to sleep outside due to over crowding in Bentiu IDP camp, South Sudan Friday, July 4, 2014. Photo:  Matthew Abbot/AP

Every day, hundreds of women living at the United Nations base in Bentiu risk rape so they can feed their children.

Some 40,000 people shelter here from South Sudan‘s civil war, and there is not enough food or charcoal. The women of this camp have taken on the job of foraging for firewood and vegetables outside the perimeter – since men in the camp have been shot on sight by lurking local soldiers who suspect them of being militants.

But leaving the compound means the women walk into the same zone of conflict. While some UN workers are pushing to get simple food and firewood delivered, they also point out that donor aid is lagging.

“They can rape me or kill me,” says ‘Anne,’ who sells home-brewed alcohol to the soldiers outside, earning about $5 each time that she uses to buy milk and soup packets for her three children.  “But my children don’t have good food to eat so I have to go out.”  Read more…

UN refugees in South Sudan carry goods through a waste canal in Bentiu camp, July 13. Photo by Jason Patinkin

When war broke out in South Sudan last December, the United Nations opened its bases to civilians fleeing the violence. That policy has saved tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives, and today more than 100,000 people shelter under peacekeepers’ protection.

But the UN bases are not meant to house large populations for long periods of time – and seven months later, the camps are proving untenable.

This situation is most dire in Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity State, where more than 40,000 people shelter in the UN base in appalling conditions.

In Bentiu, three children under age 5 die every two days from preventable diseases, and more than 250 people have perished since May. Fights break out frequently in the cramped, politically charged quarters. Rains, lack of funds, and insecurity mean aid agencies can’t get supplies in fast enough. The camp is so poorly supplied that civilians must venture outside to forage for firewood, vegetables, or water, risking rape, abduction, and murder by waiting soldiers and mercenaries tied to different ethnic groups. Even the fortified base itself has come under their fire.

But with the war showing no signs of stopping, and UN peacekeepers delayed, civilians have no other option for safe haven in South Sudan.

“My children are sick, we’re living in the flooded area, there are mosquitoes, we are sleeping with no bed, the smell is awful,” says a mother of six named Angelina, whose 1-year-old daughter recently recovered from malnutrition and malaria.  “But if there is no peace, I can’t go out.”  Read more…

A woman grinds millet, near two tanks, while children watch in Leer, Unity State, South Sudan July 15, 2014. Andreea Campeanu/REUTERS

 

As South Sudan‘s civil war drags into a seventh month, President Salva Kiir faces new political and military challenges in parts of the young nation that until now were spared violence.

Violence flared again this week in the lucrative and powerful oil-producing states in the east and north, where bitter fighting raged this winter and spring. The new tensions threaten to expand what already seems an intractable conflict.

With peace talks in Ethiopia postponed indefinitely amid new rebel demands over who should participate, rebel and government forces engaged this week near Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, despite two cease-fires.

Meanwhile, a debate in the national capital of Juba over federal vs. state powers in South Sudan reached such a boiling point that the International Crisis Group, a well-known advocacy NGO, called for an emergency UN Security Council session. Read more…

Alfred Taban, editor of the Juba Monitor, in his office in Juba, South Sudan, July 8, 2014. Photo by Jason Patinkin

On Wednesday July 3 South Sudanese security forces confiscated the entire print run of South Sudan‘s leading independent English language daily newspaper, the Juba Monitor.

The reason? Its editor Alfred Taban defied an order not to report on local government demands to be given more authority.

But Mr. Taban, whose career in the inky journalistic trenches of both Sudan and South Sudan has spanned decades – was not fazed.

“It didn’t surprise me,” he says, leaning back in his office chair next to towering stacks of papers lit by the glow of a computer screen.  “I knew they would react negatively.”

Having endured years of harsh censorship in Khartoum under successive dictators, Taban, from the south, hoped that independence for South Sudan would bring change.

But three years later, Taban says the press climate in Juba the capital is nearly as bad as his years in Khartoum, in Sudan.

Taban’s story is similar to many South Sudanese who fought and labored for their country’s freedom, only to feel let down by leaders now embroiled in a bitter and ugly civil war.

“They are doing the same things they were doing in Khartoum,” he says of South Sudan’s current rulers, whose disagreements in December brought a brutal war that remains unresolved.   Read more…

 

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir prays at the John Garang Memorial in Juba during events marking the third anniversary of South Sudan’s independence. Andrea Campeneau/Reuters

South Sudan marked its third anniversary of independence amid a civil war that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 1 million. So the birthday mood in the world’s newest nation does not resemble the complete jubilation of recent years.

In the capital of Juba yesterday, independence celebrations were large – but the pride on display was sharply mixed with ambivalence and disappointment. The festivities stood in stark contrast with the hope a year ago of a bright future for an oil- and water-rich land, and the widely shared sense now that the country’s leaders have failed.

The public sentiment was articulated by “Fox,” a man draped head to toe in South Sudanese flags: “Today I’m happy…[but] I’m crying from this war…. I feel fifty-fifty.”  Read more…

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