A man fills a bag with cassava, also known as manioc, at the Ubangi River near the border between Congo and Central African Republic in this February photo. Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, visited the conflict-ridden neighbours South Sudan and the Central African Republic. CNS photo/Legnan Koula, EPA

A Christmas gift for suffering South Sudan

By 
  • December 5, 2014

The world’s newest nation is in big trouble.

Following more than 20 years of civil war between north and south Sudan, the independent nation of the Republic of South Sudan was born in 2011.

But the birth of the new nation didn't come without pain. The many years of war brought not only much death, but also drained South Sudan of valuable resources, leaving it extremely poor.

According to South Sudan’s National Bureau of Statistics, 51 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, 73 per cent are illiterate and 45 per cent do not have access to approved sources of drinking water.

If conditions weren’t already bad enough, last year — 10 days before Christmas — civil war broke out in South Sudan amid a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar, who had been dismissed months earlier by Kiir.

According to the International Crisis Group, this war has claimed more than 10,000 lives, and more than one million have been displaced. It warns that the current humanitarian crisis threatens many more. Four million people are facing a serious risk of famine and starvation, according to the Sudd Institute.

Approximately 100,000 people are already experiencing desperate, humiliating circumstances in U.N. camps. The United Nations Children’s Fund warns that without increased emergency international assistance, more than 50,000 children under the age of five will soon die of starvation.

In addition to immediate relief, long-term development aid is essential.

John Ashworth, an advisor to the Catholic bishops of South Sudan, wrote in an email that many international donors are reducing their development aid to South Sudan due to a lack of progress in peace talks among the warring parties. He said that seven of the 10 states in South Sudan are not directly affected by the conflict, and it is both unfair and counter-productive to deny development aid to those people.

The heroic Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban often says that development is peace, and that reducing development aid could create the conditions for insecurity to spread.

It is important that citizens contact Members of Parliament to urge them to increase funding for emergency and development assistance that would support critical programs aimed at justice and reconciliation, education, infrastructure and food security. In addition, Ashworth “would highly recommend making a donation to the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (devp.org/en/emergencies/south-sudan), which is very active in South Sudan."

During Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, we should also remember the birth and infancy of the world’s youngest nation.
As the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus, let us bring Christmas gifts of prayer, money and advocacy to suffering South Sudan.

By giving gifts to the South Sudanese, we are ultimately giving Christmas gifts to Jesus, who said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

(Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist.)

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