When violence first erupted in Juba in December 2013, Mercy Corps immediately launched an emergency response to provide hygiene items, mosquito nets and other necessities. Today we are providing clean water and hand-washing stations to prevent the spread of disease, training teachers so children can continue to learn, and implementing cash-for-work programs to restore markets and dignity to families affected by the crisis. See additional photos below.
South Sudan should be a country full of hope five years after gaining independence. Instead, it is in the grip of a massive, man-made humanitarian crisis.
Political conflict has caused massive displacement, raging violence and dire food shortages. Over 5 million people are in need of aid, and more than 6 million are facing severe hunger. Despite the lack of international assistance, Mercy Corps is working with the brave people of South Sudan to address urgent needs and promote resilience throughout the country.
When did the crisis start?South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, but the hard-won celebration was short-lived. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling political party that originally led the way for independence, is now divided and fighting for power.
In December 2013, political infighting erupted into violence in the streets of the capital, Juba, after South Sudan’s president accused his vice president of an attempted coup. Fighting between the two factions of government forces loyal to each soon moved to Bor, and then to Bentiu.
Violence spread across the young nation like wildfire, displacing 413,000 civilians in just the first month of conflict. Tens of thousands of civilians rushed to seek refuge in U.N. bases that were subsequently turned into makeshift displacement camps.
The fighting has continued, becoming increasingly brutal and affecting nearly the entire country.
What's going on now?A handful of peace agreements have been signed over the course of the war — the most recent in August 2015 — but they have been repeatedly violated. The situation remains highly unstable.
While some regions have recently become slightly less volatile, allowing people to move around fairly freely and return to their homes, violent outbreaks are still occurring throughout the country.
In February 2016, the U.N. displacement site in Malakal was attacked, killing 25 people and wounding over 120 more. Regions that previously had been relatively safe from clashes have experienced assaults over the past several weeks.
And, most recently, a fresh wave of violence erupted in Juba starting July 8, 2016, just one day before the country's five-year anniversary of independence. The clashes killed more than 300 people over the course of a few days and could push the young nation back into deep chaos.
On top of these unpredictable attacks, the country's economy is in crisis — the South Sudanese pound has declined in value, and the cost of goods and services has skyrocketed. Food prices are at a record high.
What's happening to people in South Sudan?Since the conflict began, 1 in 5 people in South Sudan have been displaced. More than 2.3 million citizens have been forced to flee their homes. Just over 720,000 people have escaped to neighboring countries in search of safety, but most are trapped inside the warring nation.
Those who’ve run have lost loved ones and their homes, their land and their livelihoods. Violence toward civilians has been widespread, including targeted attacks, kidnappings and murders. And assaults on aid convoys and looting of supplies have become increasingly common, making it difficult — and dangerous — to reach in-need families with the support they need to survive.
In the country's most conflict-ridden areas, 70 percent of schools have been closed due to the fighting. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of young ones are facing an uncertain future.
Ongoing violence continues to keep people from their homes, damage markets and disrupt planting, all of which keeps families from getting the food they need to survive. Around 6 million people are currently at risk of going hungry.
Why did the humanitarian situation deteriorate so quickly?
After decades of conflict, South Sudan was and still is one of the least-developed countries in the world, which has further complicated the situation. The larger cities in South Sudan had experienced some development, but the majority of the nation is rural. Even before the crisis, more than half of its citizens lived in absolute poverty, were dependent on subsistence agriculture and suffered from malnourishment. Many people were already refugees and were only beginning to resettle and rebuild their homes. Because the economy was already fragile before fighting began, people have very few resources to help them survive the long-term conflict and displacement they're faced with. In addition, the country has very little formal infrastructure — roads, buses, buildings — which makes it difficult to transport food and supplies. Many towns and villages become inaccessible during the annual rainy season due to closed airstrips, washed out roads or lack of roads altogether, sometimes limiting any delivery of humanitarian aid to the isolated areas that need it most.
Where have people fled to?
Just over 720,000 people have crossed into neighboring countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Inside South Sudan, 1.6 million people are displaced. The crowded U.N. displacement sites are frequently depicted in news about the crisis, but the truth is only a small fraction of those who’ve escaped the violence reside in these camps. The majority of displaced families live outside the camps, wherever they can find safe shelter — often in small villages that offer some security, tucked away from the main areas of fighting. For some living in the most violent areas, there is no other choice but to flee into the bush with what little they can carry with them.
What is life like in camps?
While there may be relative safety in the six U.N. camps, the conditions there are dire. The bases were not designed to host this many people for so long. Proper sanitation, hygiene and waste disposal are inadequate in such crowded conditions, and heavy seasonal rains flood many of the camps, making things even worse. In some camps, flooding has collapsed newly-built latrines, forcing people to walk through knee-high water that is contaminated with sewage. There have been reports of mothers sleeping standing up, holding their children, because there is nowhere clean to rest. In December 2015, the World Health Organization called South Sudan one of the worst health emergencies in the world.
What are the most urgent needs in the camps?
Displaced families receive some food, but there are urgent needs for additional food and disease prevention through better sanitation and access to clean water.
Is South Sudan getting enough assistance?
The short answer: no. The U.N. appealed for $1.6 billion to assist 4.6 million people in need in 2015, but the effort was only 62 percent funded. So far only 39 percent of the $1.29 billion requested for 2016 has been funded. Many humanitarian organizations, including Mercy Corps, are partnering with the U.N., using both private contributions and funding from the international community, to address the urgent needs of innocent people in South Sudan.
How Mercy Corps is providing urgent assistance:
Mercy Corps is working to provide desperately-needed latrines, showers, hand-washing stations and clean water to help people survive and prevent the spread of disease in camps and communities. To help prevent outbreaks, better sanitation, and clean water are critical. Building latrines and teaching proper hygiene and waste disposal are the best ways to ensure that water sources stay clean for people to drink, cook and bathe. In the small villages where many people are sheltering, we have rehabilitated living spaces, provided seeds and tools so people can grow food wherever they are living, and implemented cash-for-work programs to give vulnerable families some money to purchase supplies. We're also distributing emergency funds to help traders and families access goods in hard-hit areas of the country. And our emergency education program trains teachers and provides school supplies so children can continue learning despite this crisis. But the needs of displaced families in South Sudan are increasing, and your support is allowing us to do even more.
How you can help:
The people of this young country need our help, and among the world’s other crises, we must not forget them. We are working on the ground to reach families who are struggling to survive — but our lifesaving work starts with you.
Mercy Corps joined other international organizations, world leaders and private sector copmanies for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit to address a humanitarian system that is no longer capable of meeting exponentially growing needs in a world facing a confluence of displacement, crisis and fragility. Sami, a 15 year-old Syrian refugee, joined Mercy Corps to provide a first-hand account of his experience as a refugee. All photos: Peter Biro for Mercy Corps.
Sami was nervous at first, but his voice grew steady as he described how he fled his home in Aleppo to start a new life in Gaziantep, Turkey.
“We had to leave everything behind and say goodbye to the city we love,” he said. “At first, I wasn’t sad because I did not realize that we would not be returning, and I didn’t know how hard it would be. It was difficult for me to start a new life in this city – I missed my home, I often felt alone, and it was difficult to make new friends."
At 15, Sami was the youngest of five youth panelists who participated in a side event at the World Humanitarian Summit, “Empowering Youth Affected by the Syria Crisis,” co-organized by Mercy Corps, UNICEF, and other partners of the No Lost Generation initiative. The goal of the event was to give young people an opportunity to engage directly with the decision-makers who are creating programs to respond to the needs of Syrian refugee youth and adolescents.
The 200-person room was packed. In attendance were several high-level figures who joined the panel discussion to respond directly to concerns the youth expressed, including Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director, Hikmet Eskan, CEO of Western Union, Baroness Verma, Undersecretary for DFID, and Bekir Gür, senior advisor to the Turkish Minister of Education.
Yet you could have heard a pin drop as we listened to their powerful stories. They spoke of violence and bullying in schools, early marriage, child labor, families being displaced and separated, and their enormous struggles to access education.
“I dropped out of school because I was bullied by kids who thought I didn’t belong in their school and beaten by teachers who thought this was the only way to teach us how to behave,” said Ahmed, 17, a Palestinian-Syrian refugee now living in Lebanon, and another member of the youth panel.
At the same time, their determination, empathy, talent and humor was uplifting and energizing – and highlighted the potential of this young generation to build a better future for themselves and their families.
Why focus on teens?
Adolescence is a critical stage of development. Living through trauma and upheaval during this time period has placed Syrian youth and adolescents at a crossroads.
Before the war, more than 70 percent of Syrian adolescents were enrolled in secondary school, and 95 percent of the country could read. With the Syria crisis now well into its sixth year, UNICEF estimates that half of Syrian children, roughly 2.6 million, are not accessing education opportunities across Syria and the region.
Read our report: Age of Unrest: Syrian Refugee Youth at the Crossroads
In a 2015 survey, more than half of Syrian refugee children in Turkey had witnessed someone get attacked or shot at; even more had experienced a death in the family. Almost half already showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
This side event at the World Humanitarian Summit was organized as part of the No Lost Generation initiative, a combined effort of United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and international donors to ensure that the 4 million Syrian and other vulnerable children and youth in the region have the chance to learn, recover, and contribute to their communities.
It also was a chance to show youth not as the problem, but rather the solution; it demonstrated positive power of youth and the critical role young people play in enabling the countries where they live to thrive.
Tackling the trauma of the Syrian crisis
Mercy Corps programs are built to tap the positive power of youth. Through our adolescent programs in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon, we are helping young people develop the skills and characteristics that will help them long into the future, such as empathy, critical thinking skills, the ability to set short- and long-term goals, as well as form healthy relationships and create community projects that promote non-violence.
Sami participated in Mercy Corps’ Smart Art program, which brings together Syrian and Turkish youth to design and create murals throughout the city of Gaziantep. The goal is to build social cohesion and reduce conflict between Syrian and Turkish youth through art projects.
Sami said the Smart Art program helped him feel motivated. Learn more about Sami
“Even though Syrian youth have faced a lot of challenges, we can do a lot to reach our goals,” he said. “Yes, we want to return to our country, but we also want to feel accepted in our community here.”
Ahmed, the Palestinian-Syrian refugee who dropped out of school in Lebanon, highlighted the need for informal education opportunities.
“When I signed up at Mercy Corps’ Bussma Center, I started classes in English and computers and car repair, and made a lot of friends. We stopped looking at our nationalities and started concentrating on our commonalities,” he said.
At the end, the audience left with a new understanding that young Syrians can be engines for growth and prosperity in the countries of their exile – and a promise of reconciliation and reconstruction when Syria finally sees peace.
As a global community, we must not only include adolescents in meaningful dialogue about their needs and aspirations, but also engage them as partners.
How you can help
Dima is the sole provider for her eight children, and her livelihood, like that of her community near Yabello, Ethiopia, depends on cattle. Dima has learned to run a successful small business buying and selling milk. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps
Hunger: It’s not a new problem for many countries in Africa.
While food is a basic necessity for human life, the reasons why millions of people go hungry are complex.
Crops are failing in Ethiopia due to dry weather conditions caused by El Nino, leading to the worst drought in a decade and triggering a hunger crisis that is affecting 10 million people.
In South Sudan, political instability and widespread displacement due to violent extremism have combined to create a double threat to food security.
And in Niger, widespread gender inequality keeps good nutritional information and regular meals out of reach, especially for women and girls.
These are just a few examples of why solving hunger takes more than just food. Better farming practices, safer communities and empowered women—these are some of the key ways we work within communities to tackle food insecurity at its source and come up with solutions that ensure families have enough to eat today, and tomorrow.
In Ethiopia: Better business can create more food
We define food security as a milestone achieved when all people at all times eat sufficient, safe, and nutritious food and practice behaviors that promote both their economic stability and well-being.
In a country like Ethiopia, where 80 percent of the population relies on rain-fed agriculture for the food and income they need to survive, this means building resilience against El Nino, climate change and other unpredictable weather patterns.
We’ve been on the ground in Ethiopia since 2004, working with local farmers and families to help them access more food and earn steady incomes. And we are continuing to work within communities to strengthen their economies and communities, so they can overcome the 2016 drought and hunger crisis.
By supplying herders with animal feed, scaling up training and supplies for veterinarians, and connecting herders in hard-hit areas who need to sell animals with commercial livestock traders we are supporting livelihoods.
And to help the Ethiopian government overcome these cycles of crisis for the long term, we’ve partnered with them to manage their early warning systems network, which monitors things like rainfall and market information to predict food shortages before they happen.
In the agriculture sector, only crops that can weather climate change and drought will support food security in the long term.
In South Sudan: Conflict and hunger create vicious cycle
Food security and conflict are deeply connected.
Take South Sudan, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011. While South Sudan has agricultural potential, civil war since 2013 has stunted its development as a nation. More than 2.4 million people — nearly 1 in 5—are displaced due to violence.
Violence interferes with spring planting and then often closes markets due to safety concerns. What little food is available soars in price, and most displaced families have no money to buy any goods. These food shortages are the most dire in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile states.
Since the conflict began, our team has been providing urgent food, water and sanitation assistance. We identify vulnerable families in otherwise inaccessible areas, ensuring critical assistance — vegetable seeds, fishing tools, water purification tablets, nutritional biscuits and other supplies — reaches the people who need it most.
And in more accessible places, we distribute cash so people can get the food and provisions they urgently need to provide safe, healthy lives for their families.
Local traders receive funds to resupply their market stalls specifically with the necessities that are most in-demand, including foods like sugar, flour, rice, beans and salt.
Having access to clean water is key to sanitation and food safety in places like South Sudan and Somalia, where violent extremism and political instability has displaced 1.1 million people.
Food shortages can also cause political instability. In 2007-08, rapid increases in food prices triggered unrest in 43 countries, including a government overthrow in Haiti, as populations reacted to rapidly rising costs for critical food staples.
In Niger: Empowering women empowers communities
Research shows that when men and women both have access to information, education and financial resources, everybody wins. Over the past few years, women's role in food security has come into sharp focus.
Women farmers produce 60–80 percent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production.
In the home, women—especially those in rural areas—are primarily responsible for selecting food and preparing meals, playing a decisive role in their families’ dietary diversity and health.
Tell Congress: Improve the health of women and girls with Food for Peace
In Niger, 10 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition and 44 percent are chronically malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. Because women do most of the farming and feeding in Niger, we know that empowering them with information and resources is key to fighting hunger here.
Our work throughout Niger helps mothers learn about proper nutrition. We train village leaders who in turn train the village’s mothers about the importance of good food and fruits and vegetables to ensure the health of their children.
We also are teaching women new ways to keep animals healthy, manage new wells and use new farming techniques that make the most of limited resources and are more resilient to climate change.
Captions: (corresponding to photos below)
(top photo) A group participates in a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia. We've been working with local farmers and families in Ethiopia since 2004 to help them earn steady incomes and become more resilient to the impact of unpredictable weather patterns. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps
(middle photo) Civil war has displaced more than 2.4 million people in South Sudan and left nearly 3 million at risk for starvation as violence shuts down markets and interferes with planting. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
(bottom photo) Fati, mother of 5, was selected by the community to receive health care and nutrition training from Mercy Corps to pass on to fellow mothers in her village in Niger. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps