1.25 million face starvation in war-torn South Sudan

Men, women and children line up to be registered with the World Food Program (WFP) in South Sudan. (File/AP)
Updated 06 November 2017

1.25 million face starvation in war-torn South Sudan

JUBA, South Sudan: In war-torn South Sudan, 1.25 million people are facing starvation, double the number from the same time last year, according to a report by the UN and the government released on Monday.
This country could once again plunge into famine in 2018, warn humanitarians and the government.
“The widespread and extreme food consumption gaps ... should make us all extremely concerned about the worst case scenario of famine in many locations across South Sudan in 2018,” said Katie Rickard, country coordinator for REACH, a humanitarian research initiative that provided data for the report.
Humanitarians blame the worsening situation on South Sudan’s continuing conflict, which is nearing its fifth year and has killed more than 50,000 people.
In February, the world’s youngest nation declared famine in two counties in Unity State, the world’s first formal famine declaration since Somalia in 2011.
In South Sudan’s two counties, 100,000 people were on the brink of starvation but thanks to early detection and a rapid response catastrophe was avoided, said the World Food Program.
However, the latest food and security analysis update by the UN and South Sudan’s National Bureau of Statistics is grim.
As of September, 6 million people — 56 percent of the population — were experiencing severe hunger with 25,000 South Sudanese in humanitarian catastrophe in Ayod and Greater Baggari counties.
South Sudan’s widening war has made food production impossible and delivery of aid dangerous and difficult. Both Ayod and Baggari are rebel-held areas and locals say the situation in the two counties is dire.
“We ran out because of the hunger,” said a resident of Baggari who recently fled with his family to the nearby town of Wau because they didn’t have any food. He spoke on condition of anonymity for his safety.
The 52-year-old father of four told AP by phone that people are “dying of hunger” and in the last year and a half he only saw humanitarians enter Baggari town three times.
“If the government doesn’t approve of people coming in to help what can we do? We have nothing, we can just pray,” he said.
The government says there’s no policy of “discrimination” and it is committed to helping “all South Sudanese,” said Isaiah Chol Aruai, chairman of the National Bureau of Statistics.
Rights groups are calling on all parties of the conflict to provide immediate and unfettered access to humanitarian agencies.
“Both government and opposition forces have used food as a weapon of war, ranging from restrictions to civilian access to food, actively preventing food from reaching certain areas, systematically looting food and markets and homes and even targeting civilians carrying small amounts of food across front lines,” said Alicia Luedke, South Sudan researcher for Amnesty International.
On her first visit to the country in October, US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley raised concerns about humanitarian access during a meeting with South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, according to a statement by his office.
Kiir told her that together with the UN, they have been able to establish “mechanisms to improve access,” but acknowledged that more needs to be done.
As South Sudan enters the dry season, locals and aid workers are expecting the situation to get worse.
Communities are becoming more desperate to feed their families and people have started using “extreme coping strategies” says a report by REACH, including going into sparsely inhabited forests, swamps and grassland and finding “increasingly unhealthy wild plants” while they search for food.
“2018 will be critical,” said Serge Tissot from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization.
He said the only way to avoid further deterioration in the short term is “peace.”
The current food crisis is a result of the country’s “man-made conflict,” said UN representative in South Sudan, David Shearer.
“It’s about people who have fled their homes because of the conflict and therefore left their livelihoods behind,” said Shearer.
This is especially true in the Equatoria regions, once known as the breadbasket of South Sudan, yet today has the largest number of people who have fled their homes due to the conflict.
“South Sudan had ideal rainfall in most places this year,” said Shearer.
“It’s not about climate, it’s actually about war.”


Indian president disregards protests, signs citizenship bill into law

Updated 13 December 2019

Indian president disregards protests, signs citizenship bill into law

  • The new law lays out a path of Indian citizenship for six minority religious groups from the neighboring countries
  • The law seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three Muslim-majority neighboring countries

NEW DELHI: A divisive citizenship bill has been signed into law in India, a move that comes amid widespread protests in the country’s northeast that could force the cancelation of a visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Two people were killed and 11 injured on Thursday when police opened fire on mobs in Assam state torching buildings and attacking railway stations. Protesters say the law would convert thousands of illegal immigrants into legal residents.
The new law lays out a path of Indian citizenship for six minority religious groups from the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the bill late on Thursday, signing it into law, an official statement said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has planned to host Abe at a meeting in Assam next week as part of a campaign to move high-profile diplomatic events outside Delhi to showcase India’s diversity.
Japan’s Jiji Press reported on Friday that Abe is considering canceling his trip. India’s foreign ministry said it was not in a position to comment on the visit which was originally planned for Dec 15-17.
A movement against immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh has raged in Assam for decades. Protesters say granting Indian nationality to more people will further strain the resources of the tea growing state and lead to the marginalization of indigenous communities.
Japan has stepped up infrastructure development work in Assam in recent years which the two sides were expected to highlight during the summit. Abe had also planned to visit a memorial in the nearby state of Manipur where Japanese soldiers were killed during World War Two.
Critics of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government say the bigger problem with the new law is that it is the first time India is using religion as a criterion for granting citizenship and that it excludes Muslims from its ambit.
The law seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three Muslim-majority neighboring countries before 2015.
The Indian Union Muslim League party has petitioned the Supreme Court saying the law was in conflict with the secular principles of India’s constitution that guaranteed equality to all without any regard to religion. No date has yet been set for the hearings.
The party said the law is “prima facie communal” and questioned the exclusion of minorities such as Rohingya Muslims who were just as persecuted as other faiths listed in the law.