South Sudan famine: I write with tears in my eyes

Parts of South Sudan face famine due to an ongoing civil war, collapse of law and order and drought. William Okot de Toby is the managing director of a diocesan Caritas, Caritas Torit, in the south-eastern part of the country.  He answered our questions.

What is the humanitarian situation like in Torit?

The humanitarian situation in Torit is getting to a catastrophic stage. Hunger is the order of the day and the worst is expected.

Girl admitted due to malnutrition in St. Theresa Mission Hospital. Photo by Caritas Torit

Girl admitted due to malnutrition in St. Theresa Mission Hospital. Photo by Caritas Torit

Describe the health conditions of the people coming to Caritas for food aid?

There are signs of hunger on the faces and tired bodies of the people, especially the common man who has nothing to survive on. There is no food in the market and the little available the common person cannot afford. The prices are extremely high. The number of malnourished children is increasing.

What are the causes of the food insecurity?

Causes of food security include the current conflict and the drought. To some extent there is a lack of seeds and other agricultural inputs. Some isolated areas did cultivate but wild fire burnt the produce in the fields.  If the situation remains unchanged, it is likely that there will be no cultivation this year leading to more food scarcity.

What is Caritas able to do to help?

Caritas Torit has distributed food provided by the national Caritas, Caritas South Sudan. The needs are enormous. Caritas has the capacity to buy and distribute more food and other aid but lacks funds.

Compared to crises in the past, how bad is the current situation?

The current situation is worse than compared to the past. Both the fighting and lack of food are having a deep impact. At least in the past people had coping mechanisms but this time there is nothing. Many have left to take refuge in the neighbouring countries but the situation in the camps has forced some of them to come back with a feeling that it is better to die at home than in a foreign land. .

What will happen if aid doesn’t get through?

Many will perish. I hope the situation that happened in Somalia (a famine in 2011 killed 260,000 people) doesn’t happen in South Sudan. I write with tears in my eyes of a women with three children, the youngest two years old. She had gone to fetch firewood in the bush, leaving the children alone. When the mother came back, she found them dead. She then took her own life. People guessed that the children might have eaten some wild or poisonous food that caused their death or they starved to death after staying for some days without eating food.

There are many similar stories to tell about the hunger situation here and the worse is yet to come.

It is the start of the lean season. What is going to happen over the next months?

In the villages people are preparing to cultivate but due to hunger situation they may not have enough strength. In addition, seeds are scarce. Every year during this period there is hunger. But this year it is expected that hunger will be severe and many will be affected. In towns people are too frightened to go to their farms due to the conflict.

What can the international community do to help?

The international community is the only hope. The situation has reached a stage to send messages of ‘SOS’. The international community should not wait to intervene until they see dead bodies of people  from hunger. Do it now. The international community should act or else many people will perish.

The hunger will continue until the next harvest or beyond. Caritas with other partners is ready on ground to reach the needy with the support from the international community.