Aid agencies say South Sudan at ‘tipping point’ as ethnic violence puts millions of people at risk of starvation and disease
It is happening again. Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda, 30 years after the famine in Ethiopia, Africa‘s twin scourges are back. This time it is a single country facing a double disaster. South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, not yet three years old, is on the brink of catastrophe.
Here in Melut, on the banks of the Nile, close to the oilfields and the border with Sudan, the signs of impending disaster are impossible to miss. This week the world’s richest nations will have one last chance to make good their promises of help.
Nearly 20,000 people have fled to the refugee camps in Melut since fighting between rival government factions broke out last December. In total, more than a million people have fled from their homes and, with the rainy season starting, more than a third of the population – 3.7 million people – are already facing emergency and crisis levels of hunger.
“There is no food here,” a man tells me as we sit in the dust beneath an acacia tree in one of Melut’s makeshift camps. “No food. We eat leaves from the trees and the women go out to collect firewood. But when the rain comes, it will be still worse. We will starve – and then we will die.”
Relief agencies are fighting a desperate battle to alert the outside world to the scale of the impending disaster. Last week Oxfam warned that the crisis has reached a “now or never moment” to avoid catastrophic levels of hunger and suffering. Chief executive Mark Goldring said: “The crisis is at a tipping point. We either act now or millions will pay the price. We need a massive and rapid global surge in aid … We cannot afford to wait, and we cannot afford to fail.”