South Sudan: Millions struggle to recover from unsparing war, as violence threatens fragile stability

20 February 2020

Juba (ICRC) – As South Sudan's leaders face a deadline to form a unity government on Saturday, a key milestone in the country's peace process, millions of South Sudanese are struggling to recover from six years of unsparing war, while regular inter-communal clashes threaten desperately needed stability.

"The scars left by war on South Sudan's communities are deep and slow to heal," said James Reynolds, the head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in South Sudan. "More than half of the population rely on humanitarian aid and while the main parties to the conflict have stopped fighting, violent clashes between communities pose a threat to the fragile peace."

The violence, fueled by easy access to firearms and triggered by competition for scarce resources, continues to cause death, injury, and displacement. Since November, three clashes occurred outside of Rumbek in central South Sudan leading to over 250 dead, 300 wounded, and many more displaced from their homes. Over the past three months, and as part of ICRC's mandate to protect and assist, we evacuated and treated 54 patients from those areas to our surgical unit in Juba.

It is difficult to exaggerate the toll the war has taken on most South Sudanese. Poorer farming families are estimated have seen their harvests plummet since war erupted in 2013. Back then families grew enough food to last seven months; now harvests cover as little as two months. *

However, small but encouraging signs of improvement can be seen in the country. The ICRC in 2019 found that the communities we provided seeds and farming tools to now have enough food to last them approximately four months. This is still not enough to last until the next harvest and communities will continue to face food shortages in 2020—especially if locusts spread and destroy nascent crops. Inter-communal clashes could also worsen food insecurity in some areas, particularly if the violence drives people from their homes, restricts them from access farmland, and disrupts markets.

"The conflict heavily impacted the ability for South Sudanese to farm, and while we are seeing some improvements today, flooding late last year wiped out crops in some areas and now locusts threaten to destroy the next harvest. The situation could once again deteriorate," added Reynolds.

OPERATIONAL NOTES

  • To help families in South Sudan feed themselves, the ICRC provided more than 430,000 people last year with seeds and farming tools, which allowed their average household agricultural production to increase from 227 kg to 626 kg.
  • In 2019, we treated 769 patients with weapon injuries in our surgical units; 361 were evacuated by air following armed violence.
  • More than 5,100 people are registered by their families as missing with the ICRC. We are working with the South Sudanese Red Cross as well as with the national societies in neighboring countries to search for the missing. Last year, these efforts resulted in 58 people, including children, being reconnected with their loved ones.
  • However, there is no exact figure on the number of people who have gone missing because of the war. It is important to search for people not only who are alive but put measures in place that can allow for people to have answers when their loved one has died.

*The average sorghum harvest among poorer households in 2013 was estimated to last families between six and seven months. Today, the harvest last roughly two to four months due to a combination of conflict, climate disasters - such as floods and droughts, and violence and instability making farmers reluctant to sow away from their homes.

For further information, please contact:
Florian Seriex, ICRC Juba, +211 912 360 038
Crystal Wells, ICRC Nairobi, +254 716 897 265