On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan gained independence from Sudan.  Since then, the newly formed nation has been engulfed in internal conflicts, claiming the lives of up to 10,000 people.  The violence has caused over 870,000 South Sudanese to flea their homes, of which over 140,000 have escaped to neighboring countries.

The displacement has disrupted the nations already unstable agriculture sector. Markets have been disrupted as the food supply chain is broken and foreign investors try to avoid the conflict.  According to United Nations estimates, 3.7 million people were already facing food insecurity, but the new wave of violence that erupted in December of 2013 has raised this figure to almost 7 million. There is a major food crisis in South Sudan.

The timing of the conflict could not have been worse as local farmers are gearing up to plant their crops for the incoming season.  Constant relocation is forcing millions to rely on scarce food aid.  In some cities like Malakal, desperate populations have begun raiding aid supply stored in warehouses.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that if farmers miss the planting season, it would compound food insecurity issues for this year and 2015.

Farmers that remain tied to their land are facing a shortage of agriculture inputs such as seeds and tools to cultivate their crops.  The FAO is seeking $77 million to assist the Republic of South Sudan in implementing an emergency response plan.  Their aim is to deliver farming tools, seeds and fishing equipment to 545,000 households in some of the more war-torn states of the country.  The FAO has collected just 6 percent of its total donation goal.

To complicate matters further, migrant animal herds are now intermingling with displaced human populations and their livestock.  These unvaccinated animals have potential to transmit disease and cause further complications for public health and food safety initiatives.  To combat the collapse of the vaccine supply chain, the FAO is working to build capacity within local communities and deliver basic health support.

The UN mission in South Sudan is increasing its support with 266 peacekeepers being flown in on February 4, 2014.  In total, the UN has over 12,500 peacekeepers and 1,323 police on the ground.  The UN through the FAO and the World Food Program have teamed up with ACTED, OXFAM, Save the Children, Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps, and Joint Aid Management to provide much needed assistance throughout the country.

For anyone seeking to get involved in the food crisis in South Sudan, through volunteering and donations, please visit the World Food Program.

– Sunny Bhat

Sources: New York Times, UN News Center, BBC
Photo: WFT

Reconciliation in South Sudan
In December 2013, the newest country in the world broke into a violent power struggle of massive proportions. The conflict, instigated within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM,) has already killed and displaced a multitude of innocent civilians, primarily from the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups. Efforts at making peace between the groups have so far failed and are in dire need of reconstruction.

While the official death toll in South Sudan stands at around 500 people, some aid workers have assessed the figure to be much higher, with possibly thousands or tens of thousands dead. Families seek sanctuary in United Nations bases guarded by peacekeepers, yet protection such as this is not enough. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) has provided in this manner for the relative safety of around 65,000 civilians while the war rages on outside and few further efforts are made by the international community.

When the violence began December 15, the United Nations Security Council promised a near doubling of troops and police officers in the region within 48 hours of the conflict. One month later, South Sudan remains in wait. The physical protection of civilians, though necessary, will lead virtually nowhere if political resolution methods are not properly addressed by those with the appropriate capacity to do so.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD,) currently in charge of peace talks, lacks the essentials to bringing about peace. With Uganda, a leading IGAD member, already taking a stake in the issue, the mediation process fails to maintain impartiality crucial to the peacemaking process. As such, Ahmed Hussain Adam of Al Jazeera suggests a structural renovation to the present mediation.

His proposal for countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway to become involved in resolving the conflict ultimately brings together nations that helped form South Sudan in 2011 in order to assist the conflicting parties in reaching a lasting peace.

Developing and sustaining a nation is undoubtedly a daunting task. By focusing on the founding agenda and ideals of South Sudan, however, perhaps the warring parties can eventually interact in an inclusive environment and discuss the conflict’s primary causes. The world’s newest nation is in trouble, but its future is not yet doomed. With the cooperation of the right politically, economically and diplomatically leveraged countries, there is hope for an imminent political solution.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Guardian, New York Times
UN News Centre

Guinea Worm
There were only 148 cases of Guinea Worm infestations reported worldwide last year, which is a leap forward compared to the 3.5 million cases less than two decades ago. This disease is known to many as “dracunculiasis” which means, “affliction with little dragons,” due to the pain the worm causes on the skin. Hope remains for the few countries left on the Guinea worm-endemic list as complete eradication of the parasite may come at a faster rate than that of the polio virus.

The number of countries on the Guinea worm endemic list dropped from 21 to four. Ethiopia, Chad, Mali and South Sudan remain on the list, but there are now less than 200 cases compared to the millions that reported in 1986. South Sudan currently has the highest number of cases due to a resurgence that occurred last month when health workers were removed from the main eradication center due to fighting in the villages.

People acquire the worm by drinking contaminated water. When individuals drink the contaminated water, the pathogen enters the body where it remains for almost a month. During this time it matures into a worm that can grow up to 3 feet long. When it is ready, the Guinea worm exits from a blister on the individual’s skin inch by inch.  In most cases, the exiting worm has contact with water, where it releases its larvae and the pathogen is able to spread to several people if they continue to drink from these shallow ponds. This microscopic parasite usually appears in isolated villages marked by these shallow water ponds.

Family economies also suffer as victims are unable to work or farm. The process is painful and as it emerges it cripples a person for several weeks. Young children who acquire the worm also miss school for several weeks.

Wiping out the Guinea worm has been quite the obstacle since there is no vaccine or medicine against the parasite.  Health advocates usually visit various villages to educate families about the dangers of drinking contaminated water. They also explain how the water becomes contaminated when villagers place their infected limbs in shallow water ponds.

So far efforts to eliminate the Guinea Worm have cost around $350 million since 1986. This amount has almost solved the problem, while fighting off polio will cost upwards of $5.5 billion. Health workers note that eradication efforts are low-tech but can be easily implemented since the only strategy is to drink clean water and keep infections monitored. Officials from the Carter Center, the main operation center against Guinea Worm cases, are confident about eliminating the parasite if they continue their same efficient methods.

Maybelline Martez

Sources: NY Times, NPR, Guinea Worms, NPR, Slaying Dragons
Photo: TrialX

Aid Effectiveness in South Sudan
South Sudan is looming on the edge of a civil war. An ugly political dispute between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar is at the heart of the fighting, but it is also fueled by endemic poverty and tribal warfare. The United States is especially vexed because of the $1.8 billion in aid it has given to South Sudan since 2011, and also because it has been South Sudan’s champion to the international community.

The pressing goal at the moment is galvanizing a ceasefire so that negotiations can take place. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been pressuring both Kiir and Machar to agree to an immediate ceasefire. Machar has voiced that he would not agree unless detainees held by President Kiir were released, but Rice has dismissed Machar’s misgivings as petty considering the continuing lives lost due to the ongoing conflict.

On a positive note, the US has convinced the UN Security Council to mobilize nearly six thousand more peacekeepers to South Sudan. However, this has not proven to be enough, and in what seems like a last-ditch effort, Secretary of State John Kerry has threatened to pull US assistance and diplomatic support from South Sudan, unless Kiir tries to curb his forces. As things stand now, US aid is being underutilized since constant fighting prevents access by aid workers and ultimately undermines aid effectiveness. The conflict has become so violent that the United States is considering military intervention.

Before attempting military intervention, the US will use targeted sanctions in order to pressure both of South Sudan’s senior leaders into submission. The possible sanctions would involve freezing US assets of the leaders and banning their travel to the United States. The prosecution of war criminals is also crucial in breaking the sense of impunity that enables these atrocities to continue.

Although all odds seem to be against them, Sudanese refugees from the state of Blue Nile offer a bright spot in an otherwise dark and violent story. When aid agencies in South Sudan pulled out due to the growing danger of warfare, these refugees stepped in to take over the responsibility of running the refugee camps, including protecting the resources provided by the UNHCR and keeping water pumps in working order.

Despite close proximity to the fighting, Adam Ilmi, UNHCR’s head of operations in Bunj, says that the morale of his staff is high, and UNHCR’s partner, the World Food Program, has ramped up its food rations. Aid provided by the United States may have given South Sudan a chance at greater peace and prosperity with enough time and stability. Unfortunately, war eats up everything in its path and no amount of money can stave off the destruction wreaked by constant fighting. The story of South Sudan thus far, is not an example of the ineffectiveness of aid, but rather of the overwhelmingly ruinous power of warfare.

Jordan Schunk

Sources: AllAfrica , The Daily Beast, Post Bulletin , Reuters
Photo: Guardian LV

There have been crises in South Sudan, with recent news of the presence of child soldiers. The country has a population of 11,090,104, ranking at 77th in the world with  the majority of its population at 14-years of age or younger.  Approximately 46.2% of the South Sudanese population are children.

Southern Sudan was colonized by Egypt with the province of Equatoria in the 1870s. The region was then overrun by Islamic Mahdist revolutionaries in 1885, only to be overrun again by British forces in 1898.  Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was then formed, with Equatoria one of eight provinces. South Sudan eventually gained its independence in 1956, when full participation in the political system was granted to all provinces.

In 2005, after two prolonged periods of conflict that killed 2.5 million people, peace talks finally led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which entailed a six-year period of autonomy for Equatoria. Independence was then achieved on July 9th, 2011 and since then South Sudan has had a hard time maintaining good governance to build its nation. Since 2012, South Sudan’s economy has been deteriorating and the nation has struggled to control rebel militia groups in the territory.

According to South Sudanese national law and international law, no child should be able to fight in armed conflict, either with an informal militia or an army.  UNICEF has been concerned with this issue for some time and suspected numerous combatants to be children in the conflict in South Sudan. These allegations have recently been confirmed in reports received by UNICEF, but the number of child combatants is still uncertain.  UNICEF is on the UN Security Council and is monitoring the children affected by armed conflict in the country. UNICEF has called on both parties to halt the use of child soldiers and release them straightaway.  They are also reminding the parties that they are currently committed to international and national law and will face the consequences if they do not comply.

Kenneth W. Kliesner 

Photo: amnestyusa

A tragic return to form for South Sudan as a rebellion has sparked in the Capital of Juba, a sad reality after the nation won its independence from Sudan through a 2011 referendum. War and violence has retaken the newly formed nation, as ethnic and political divides have created a dire situation for the nation’s stability.

On December 15, 2013, political infighting began between elites in the government over executive and legislative power. Riek Machar, the former Vice President, was dismissed by President Salva Kiir, igniting sectarian violence.

The President and Vice President were from different ethnic groups, and the political nightmare has put a match to the inevitable break up of civil order.

Ethnic divides, once united under the common goal of gaining control of South Sudan from the Muslim-dominated northern Sudan, has become more visible. South Sudan’s two decade-long battle for autonomy from the north was a common cause for the mostly Christian and Animist southern peoples. The civil war, which ended in 2005, began in 1983 and left the once-united Sudan a contentious war zone. A 2011 referendum backed by the United States helped form the nation.

In any new nation, the political establishment is relatively incapable of dealing with ingrained ethnic power structures. Citizens hold allegiance to their respective ethnic groups, not an executive power, regardless if it is a democratically elected government.

Kiir is from the largest ethnic group in South Sudan, the Dinkas, whereas Machar was from the second-most populous ethnic group, Neuer. Both groups wanted to maintain hegemony over the newly formed nation, and the tense political alignment between these two leaders was overwhelmed by rivalry rather than co-operation.

The dismissal of Vice President Machar was responded with immediate violence in Juba. He was accused of attempting an overthrow, with the military splitting along ethnic lines.

When allegations were made, Kiir feared an eventual overthrow by Machar and allocated much of his resources to retain control of the nation. Power sharing was the only logistical way the nation could have progressed past years of war with its northern neighbor, Sudan. The necessity of powerful figures in each ethnic group to maintain peaceful discourse among their fellow leaders prevents events such as the oncoming civil war in South Sudan.

The notion of fear and distrust among political elites in the nation drives the civil war, which has already led to the deaths of many citizens. Refugees fleeing the nation have met with harsh conditions. 200 South Sudanese refugees perished in the White Nile while fleeing the violence. This is a hard price to pay for a nation whose future seem bright after finally gaining independence, coupled with its vast natural resources that includes oil, a valuable commodity.

The civil unrest poses considerable problems for the new nation, whose infrastructure was badly damaged by a two-decade war with its northern neighbor. Unless their leaders can find a common consensus about how to share power, the nation may never find long-lasting peace.

Joseph Abay

Sources: New York Times, News Week, BBC, VOA News, Reuters, Sudan Tribune, Washington Post, Washington Post
Photo: DW

Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital of Juba in December and has since spread throughout the country, not only displacing families, but separating them.

Save the Children fears that of the 121,000 people who have fled from their homes, countless children have been forced to fend for themselves in the surrounding swamp areas without access to shelter or clean water.

Over the course of three days in Juba alone, 60 children were reported as separated from their families. This is indicative of a larger problem, as the fighting is now concentrated in the northern part of the country, in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Malakal.

United Nations compounds and surrounding communities are providing refuge for some displaced families. However, due to the ongoing danger, access is limited where the fighting is at its worst, leaving the severity of the situation for South Sudanese children largely unknown.

United States missionaries in Malakal spent Christmas day protecting orphans from the conflict inside a U.N. peacekeeping base.

Forced from their home, the Campbells, a missionary family from Omaha, fled to their local base having pushed mattresses up against the inside of their doors and endured bullets through their windows.

Bradley Campbell, a former visual artist turned pastor, moved his family to South Sudan in 2012 as part of a Christian ministry based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Keeping Hope Alive.

Campbell recalls Christmas night spent trying to keep the orphans quiet inside the base, for fear the soldiers would find them.

400 U.S. government officials and private citizens have been evacuated since the conflict started, at least 60 more are awaiting evacuation, including the Campbells, although leaving may not be an option for the family.

The Campbells now count 10 Sudanese orphans as family members and fear what would happen to them if they are not considered U.S. citizens and granted the ability to leave.

Most of the orphans under Campbell’s care are ethnic Nuer, the tribe from which former vice president and current rebel leader Riek Macher hails.

The conflict arose when fighting broke out between those aligned with Macher and those with President Salva Kiir of the Dinka tribe. The president then accused Macher of starting a coup, after which an ethnic conflict erupted between the Nuer and the Dinka.

This recent violence in South Sudan is a continuation of Africa’s longest running civil war. Having gained independence just two years ago, South Sudan has endured decades of unrest, a total of two million lost lives as well as four million refugees.

An end to the current conflict does not seem eminent despite the insistence of East African mediators that the two sides must engage in peace talks.

Macher has requested the release of numerous imprisoned politicians before the talks can commence, a wish the government will not grant until the fighting has ceased.

– Zoë Dean

Sources: BBC, Save the Children, Washington Post
Photo: BBC

Nodding Syndrome first appeared in the 1960’s in South Sudan. It attacks healthy children between the ages of 5 – 15. The disease gained its name from its most notable symptoms.  Children tend to “nod off,” or temporarily lose consciousness or fall asleep although they do not report feeling tired. The nodding is often triggered by cold temperatures or eating and is accompanied by cognitive impairment. The incidence of the disease has increased over the past 10 years in Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania. The CDC published a report on Nodding Syndrome in September 2013.  It explains that the nodding episodes are actually atonic seizures of unknown origin, “Nodding Syndrome is an unexplained endemic epilepsy.”

The symptoms worsen over time and children begin to experience worsening seizures; they stop eating and eventually lose their physical and mental capacity. The disease is not fatal but children often die by falling into cooking fires, drowning during a seizure, or succumbing to malnutrition related illnesses. Parents also lose patience caring for their disabled children and often abandon them.

Other parents resort to extreme measures in order to keep their children from falling and hurting or killing themselves while nodding. Other bizarre symptoms include the disorientation and confusion; children often wander off and get lost in the woods. Global Health Front Line News spoke with one woman who has tied her 15-year-old son to the house for years in order to keep him safe. The boy is confused, angry and frustrated.

It is unclear why the disease only strikes children. Many experience severely stunted growth due to malnutrition and some do not survive to adulthood. Epilepsy drugs have been used to treat the syndrome and while they sometimes help with symptoms they do not cure the child completely. Recent studies have confirmed that Nodding Syndrome is a disease of the brain. Children have abnormal EEGs and their MRIs show atrophy.

A possible theory is that the disease develops from onchocerciasis, a parasitic condition that can cause blindness. Dr. Tenywa from the World Health Organization reports that all children he has studied with Nodding Syndrome also have this condition. However onchocerciasis occurs all over Africa and Nodding Syndrome is isolated to Uganda, Sudan and Tanzania.

In Pander, a rural community in Northern Uganda, more than 3,000 children have been stuck with the debilitating disease. It has devastated the community; almost every family has at least one child affected. In Pander there has been a makeshift ward created for the children. However, it is really just a place where parents dump their children when they can no longer care for them. The Ministry of Health developed five of these wards in Northern Uganda over the past few years.

The World Health Organization and the CDC are still looking for answers to what is causing this disease but they will continue conducting research until more concrete information on the cause of this peculiar disease and ultimately a treatment or cure can be found.

– Lisa Toole

Sources: Global Health Front Line, CDC, CNN, NPR
Photo: Gizmodo

From 1983 to 2005, the people of Sudan endured the Second Sudanese Civil War. Conflict between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) resulted in the deaths of two million people and the displacement of four million more. In 2005, the Sudanese government and SPLM signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which eventually led to the establishment of an independent state of South Sudan.

Despite the Peace Agreement and separation of South Sudan, many members of the SPLM and other revolutionary groups—collectively known as the Sudan Revolutionary Forces (SRF) – remained in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. Since 2011, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) have engaged in a comprehensive campaign to repress and eliminate these revolutionary forces in the country’s southern states.

To achieve this objective, the SAF has initiated indiscriminate aerial bombings and ground assaults in territories held by the SRF. Eyewitness accounts describe government soldiers forcing civilians from their homes and destroying entire villages. The attacks have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in a region that is already afflicted by severe food and water shortages. Many civilians have had no choice but to flee the territory.

The United Nations estimates that more than 200,000 Sudanese have fled to already-overcrowded refugee camps in Ethiopia and South Sudan. These refugees face a long and daunting journey by foot through the Nuba Mountains. Those that arrive at a camps are often afflicted with a range of health problems including malnutrition, water born illnesses, skin diseases, respiratory infections and potentially fatal diseases such as Hepatitis E.

Compounding the situation is the fact that many camps are hindered in their ability to care for refugees by a lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. In the rainy season, roads are impassable and all food and medical supplies must be flown into the camps. Ewan Watson, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, says that many refugees “found shelter in camps whose stretched resources were insufficient to cover peoples’ basic needs.”

While many civilians have fled, those that remain in the region are unable to farm or harvest because of the aerial and ground attacks. This has intensified food shortages, malnutrition, and disease. The Sudanese government has also cut off all foreign aid to people living in territories controlled by the Revolutionary Forces. The Enough Project—an advocacy group focused on genocide and crimes against humanity—reports that more than 80% of households in the state are surviving on one meal a day.

Despite growing international pressure, there are no signs that the SAF will abate their assault on the southern states. As food, shelter and land become more scarce, the number of refugees fleeing Sudan will increase. In a region that has known little peace, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan appears to shift continuously from bad to worse.

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: Enough Project, The Lancet, Overseas Development Institute

The issue of poverty in South Sudan is very complex, however, the organization Plan International is adamant that a key component to poverty reduction is concentrating on decreasing poverty among young people in the country. A 2009 Southern Sudan Household Survey disclosed that 50.6% of the population survives on less than $2 a day. In addition to income limitations, poverty also brings a lack of healthcare, food, sanitation, and clean water.

In order to improve these conditions, Nigal Champman, the Chief Executive Director of Plan International, suggests focusing on children as a financially small investment. He explained, “We all know that young people can play an important role in national development if provided with the right tools, the learning and capacity to employ those tools, and a supportive environment in which to use them.” However, these children can just as easily continue to live in the poverty cycle if they are not provided with education, healthcare or proper nutrition.

The organization has invested $30 million in South Sudan since 2006 and is planning on providing another $30 million in the next three years. Plan International will utilize this money by working with government officials to implement policies meant to keep children in school. Other ways Plan International contributes to the reduction of poverty in South Sudan is through food and clean water distribution, supporting agricultural developments, peacekeeping programs, and providing access to health services.

In a country where 50% of the population is young children or adolescents, about 60% of the poor belong to this demographic. In addition to the previously mentioned disadvantages, these young people also struggle because many are orphans of parents who have AIDS or victims of conflict or child labor. While South Sudan may be a convoluted situation, organizations like Plan International are working to ensure that poverty is a thing of the past by investing in children, who are our future.

– Mary Penn

Sources: All Africa, Youth Policy
Photo: Doctors without Borders