Entire communities in South Sudan are at risk of starvation, according to a local Church leader, who says fighting continues despite the ceasefire.
Bishop Roko Taban Mousa said vast numbers of people are “in urgent need” across his Diocese of Malakal, which covers Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states, scenes of some of the worst fighting between government forces and rebel groups.
Speaking on Thursday, February 13th, from South Sudan in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Taban warned of mass famine if aid, particularly food, is not sent quickly.
Describing the difficulties of getting aid to the worst-affected areas, he said that, in spite of the ceasefire of 24th January, the fighting had continued, although the conflict was not as intense as before.
Stressing the need for rice, maize, beans, sugar, oil and salt as well as clean water, he said, “The question of food is very urgent. People are on the edge of starvation and, if nothing happens, people will fall into that situation.”
“Upper Nile, Bor and Unity are really destroyed. This conflict has been devastating and very inhuman.”
Bishop Taban, who is Apostolic Administrator of Malakal, in effect acting bishop, said that in some of the worst affected areas of his diocese, up to 100,000 people are in dire need of food.
According to Bishop Taban, at least 30,000 homes lie in ruins across the diocese, half of them in three main towns, Bor, the center of particularly severe conflict, Malakal and Bentiu.
He also highlighted mass looting and attacks on core services such as pharmacies and other medical centers.
The bishop said people had no access to healthcare at a time when malaria and diarrhea were on the rise.
He reported that people without clean water were drinking from the White Nile that runs through the diocese.
Across South Sudan, thousands of people have died in the conflict between South Sudan government forces and rebels led by former deputy president Riek Machar.
The UN reported that since the violence started on December 15th, 2013 more than 860,000 have fled their homes.
Stressing that the devastation was far worse than during the catastrophic 21-year civil war that ravaged Sudan until 2005, Bishop Roko said, “What we experienced during the [civil] war was never as bad as what we have experienced these past weeks.”
Describing the current violence, he said, “The fighting is continuing but not at the same level as when it started.”
“From Christmas Eve until 20th January, there was very heavy fighting. Now it is subsiding because of the [Addis Ababa] negotiations.”
Bishop Roko described how his own home in Malakal was damaged by gunfire. While he avoided the danger, he came home to find damage to doors, windows and lighting.
Appealing for prayer, he said, “People need to pray for us. We feel that sense of solidarity when people pray.”
“The need for prayer is very important. For those who have suffered so much, knowing that there are people who are praying for them will encourage them and give them back their hope.”
Aid to the Church in Need is working with Bishop Roko to assess options for emergency aid.
ACN’s Sudan and South Sudan projects coordinator Christine du Coudray Wiehe said, “The charity is willing to offer emergency help, but we would first like to raise the question of logistical capacity; whether there are trained personnel capable of implementing the project efficiently.”
She raised concerns about aid convoys being looted by underpaid and hungry soldiers, citing instances of this kind involving the UN.
With picture of Bishop Roko Taban Mousa of Malakal [center] (© ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.