Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

South Sudan needs aid to avert famine

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Driving along a flooded road in the backwoods of South Sudan last week, I passed by a World Food Programme truck loaded with food, its wheels stuck deep in the thick mud, far from the thousands of displaced people who so desperately need its contents.

That truck is an apt image of the challenges facing South Sudan, the world's newest country.

The violent conflict between rebels and government forces that broke out in South Sudan in December is not ending. Already, about 1.5 million people have been displaced, and four million people are facing hunger. Some parts of the country are at risk of famine.

Despite the pleading of neighbouring government leaders, United Nations officials and many South Sudanese, the rebels and government forces continue to fight.

I spent a week in South Sudan visiting emergency relief projects supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank. We are responding to the needs of people who have fled the violence and are now living in host communities in safer parts of the country.

I talked with people who had lived through experiences no human being should ever have to endure. Many people fled their homes in the middle of the night, when soldiers, from both government and rebel forces, came storming through their towns, shooting at will.

I spoke with mothers who fled with their babies in their arms through the river, trying to reach boats that would take them up the Nile River to the safety of the capital city of Juba.

As I listened to their stories, I was again confronted by the awful impact of war. I will never forget one mother's terrible story of how, when she was fleeing across a river to escape the fighting, her young son had been swept away by the water and drowned.

While people were grateful for the safety they had found and the help they were receiving, they were struggling to get by, depending on the kindness of the local inhabitants.

Host communities don't have a lot of extra food to begin with. When displaced people arrive, such as a mother with six children showing up on a relative's doorstep, there is not enough food to go around.

Despite the challenges and the heaviness I felt in my heart, I was comforted to know food from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, funded by individual donors and the Government of Canada, would soon be arriving for some of the displaced people in that country.

Yet more help is needed. Unless food and other supplies urgently arrive, the risk of famine in parts of South Sudan is real. Already, aid workers are reporting a sharp increase in the number of malnourished children they are seeing and needing to treat. We hope Canadians, and the Canadian government, will respond generously to help people affected by this conflict.

At the same time, every effort must be made to get the protagonists to the conflict to resolve their differences. An end to the war is the best solution to the crisis. To date, the situation in South Sudan has not received much media attention.The world is preoccupied with conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, and the tragic crashes of airplanes in Africa and Ukraine. This is making it more difficult to mobilize the resources needed. We pray that we don't have to wait until the outbreak of famine for this to get on the world's radar.

Jim Cornelius is executive director of Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2014 0

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