GEMENA, ETHIOPIA (February 27, 2017) – Following a United Nations declaration last week that much of South Sudan now is suffering from famine, Mathew Jock Moses, the president of the Evangelical Covenant Church of South Sudan and Ethiopia (ECCSSE), said, “Despite the infinite challenges facing their people, the churches remain determined to stand firm with the people of South Sudan in the midst of their agonies.”
“The people are predominantly farmers and war has disrupted agriculture,” Mathew said. “They’ve lost their livestock, even their farming tools. For months there has been a total reliance on whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch. Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive.”
More than 100,000 people face imminent starvation, according to the U.N. and roughly 5.5 million people—nearly half the population—will not have a reliable source of food by July.
South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation and among the poorest. After the country gained its independence from Sudan nearly six years ago, civil war erupted in 2013 when President Salva Kiir fired his deputy Riek Machar. Since then, fighting has been ongoing between forces loyal to either of the men, with fighters aligned mostly along ethnic lines.
“Famines are preventable. We have failed our fellow brothers and sisters in the world when famines happen.”
The conflict has decimated the nation’s economy and what little infrastructure existed. South Sudan is the size of Texas but has only 120 miles of paved roads, according to the U.N.
Although many countries suffer hunger, the U.N. declares a famine only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition, and hunger are met: At least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons. Most often they are the result of conflict and the government’s inability or unwillingness to respond.
Chrissy Palmerlee of Covenant World Relief (CWR) lamented, “Famines are preventable. We have failed our fellow brothers and sisters in the world when famines happen.”
Mathew said he is grateful for the support that the ECCSSE has received from CWR and the ECC, which have helped the church serve the poorest of the poor among internally displaced people and refugees living in camps set up in Kenya and Ethiopia.
That assistance has funded food programs, peace efforts among tribes in refugee camps, and programs such as the Vulnerable and Orphaned Children (VOC) project. The project helps provide schooling for children and vocational training to women so that they can create sustainable livelihoods.
Successes there become signs of hope, Mathew said. One success is happening in a sprawling Ethiopian refugee camp where some food is available. The VOC has helped Nyabang Padak Lieth, who was trained in food processing, to operate a tiny restaurant that provides enough income to support school fees and clothing for her children.
Covenant World Relief has an established fund for donors who want to contribute to the work of the ECCSSE here.