CAFOD has expressed deep concern at the serious escalation in violence in South Sudan, as the conflict is about to enter its fifth year on 15 December. People have seen their loved ones killed, their property looted and destroyed, and face dire living conditions in makeshift camps, struggling to keep themselves and their children alive, as the country continues to unravel.
"I've lived in South Sudan, and know of the great promise the world's youngest country has to offer, but the continuing conflict as lead to bleak humanitarian conditions, which has exacerbated the food crisis in the country. People are likely to face dangerous levels of food shortages in the first months of 2018", said Cathy Hynds, country representative in South Sudan fornCAFOD.
Millions of people face hunger in South Sudan because of civil war and banditry. Fighting has engulfed the Country's fertile region, causing communities already struggling with drought to abandon their fields, and preventing aid from reaching them.
The "lean season" - when households run short of food before the next harvest - is forecast to start in January 2018, three months earlier than usual. Food prices have soared: in the capital, Juba, a 100kg bag of sorghum costs 11,285 South Sudanese pounds. That is an increase of more than 260 per cent over a year ago, and vastly beyond what most families can afford.
The IPC monitoring system made up of the South Sudanese government, the UN and international aid agencies, is warning that the country is once again under threat of famine.
Over half the population, six million people, are experiencing severe hunger. More than a million children under the age of five will be malnourished in 2018, according to the IPC forecast, of whom nearly 300,000 risk severe malnutrition and a heightened risk of death.
In Yirol in central South Sudan, CAFOD and its Irish sister agency Trocaire are getting food and essential items to people most in need. Working through local Caritas aid workers from Caritas Rumbek, 25,200 people have been reached with emergency food - beans, sorghum, salt, and cooking oil, in four areas (Payams) - Adior, Pagarau, Malek and Lekakudu.
What started as a power struggle between the South Sudanese president, Salva Kiir, and the former vice president, Rik Machar, turned into full-scale civil war, in December 2013. The UN estimates that tens of thousands have died so far, and more than two million people are displaced within the country.
CAFOD's local partner, Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of the Catholic diocese of Tombura-Yambio, last week conducted a meeting of religious leaders and governors from nine counties of South Sudan to seek ways of "promoting greater peace and prosperity to the present and future generation".
"In every part of this country, hatred has buried our youth in unknown graves," said Bishop Kussala. "Hundreds of thousands of people are refugees, and conflict has turned what was once a rich country into one of the poorest in the region.
"Violence is easy, but for the poor, all it means is agony and displacement. To achieve progress, we must take the harder path of breaking down barriers, building bridges and standing up for tolerance and diversity. Peace will benefit all. A country with such a young population cannot squander its wealth in wars that nobody wins."
Bishop William Kenney, (Archdiocese of Birmingham) visited South Sudan with CAFOD in October, he called on all Catholics to pray for their brothers and sisters traumatised by this war.