Not long after midnight on a hot summer day, the streets of South Sudan’s capital city, Juba, rang with chants of "Freedom" and “South Sudan, oh yay!” On that day in July of 2011, South Sudan was on the cusp of new greatness. After five decades of guerrilla warfare with Sudan and more than two million lives lost, the country had won its independence.
“We have waited for more than 56 years for this,” said the new nation’s first president, Salva Kiir. “This land has seen untold suffering and death ... We have to forgive, though we will not forget.”
Two years later, the air of hope was dashed when a grab for power between Kiir and his former first vice president Riek Machar turned into a violent civil war. The young nation of 11 million began tearing itself apart: accusations of ethnic cleansing, burning crops to drive a man-made famine, mass rape and government corruption soon followed. A brief peace accord was found in 2015, but fighting resumed in 2016.
The crisis is straining humanitarian resources, and it’s getting worse. In February, the United Nations officially declared famine in parts of South Sudan. Some have received aid, but more than 100,000 others are in danger of starvation, according to a statement released March 28 by UNICEF, and even more are severely malnourished. “With more than a quarter of a million children estimated to be severely malnourished in South Sudan, the scale of this crisis requires us to respond as quickly and as robustly as possible if we are to prevent children from dying,” said Jeremy Hopkins, acting UNICEF representative in South Sudan.
The continued flow of refugees from South Sudan is putting pressure on the many humanitarian partners and their capacity to cope. More than 1.5 million asylum seekers have taken refuge in Uganda, with 100,00 entering in 2017 so far, according to the U.N., with 1,000 to 4,000 new people crossing the border every day.