Simon Day: South Sudan

From Saturday Morning, 8:10 am on 9 July 2016

The youngest country in the world, South Sudan has its fifth anniversary of independence on 9 July, but since 2013 has descended into tribal-based civil war that has left thousands dead, millions of people displaced internally, and created huge food insecurity.

Simon Day is head of external affairs for World Vision New Zealand, and recently visited South Sudan.

He said that there was much media and political attention in South Sudan five years ago when the nation was created, and despite the difficult task of bringing two conflicting tribes together to do so there had been a sense of hope at the time.

However, South Sudan now seemed almost like a forgotten conflict, with displacement of nearly 2.5 million people and the fact that hundreds of thousands of children's education had stopped.

"Without education they're going to have little choice but to engage in the conflict. Child malnutrition levels are affecting upwards of 500,000 children under five and this leads directly to stunted development and death in many cases.

"The levels of mortality in childbirth is extreme."

He visited, as well as a similar facility in Juba, Malakal city's Protection of Civilians centre, where World Vision was operating and which was subject to an attack by government soldiers on 17 and 18 February.

"City is a bit of a euphemism at this point," he said.

"And I've never seen anything like these places where people have chosen to live in such destitution for their own protection - but that cannot be guaranteed in any way.

"It really upset the people as well because they had come to these places to seek protection, they had fled their villages and their livelihoods in the hope that they would at least have safety and the fact that even that was so hard to find in South Sudan was really alarming."

He said the situation Juba had really deteriorated and over the last two nights there had been fighting with the UN coming under attack.

"The security in the entire country is just incredibly fragile."

"You could feel the nervousness wherever you went - it was quite unnerving to see armed people everywhere.

While many of the battles were ostensibly on behalf of either the President Salva Kiir Mayardit or the Vice President James Wani Igga, the situation was more complicated than that.

"It's not as simple as being defined by troops loyal to the president or the vice president, that comes down to both tribal conflicts, intercommunal conflicts, desperation to survive as environmental conditions destroy livelihoods and cattle is stolen - and in a big way I think it shows the difficulty of building a nation in a place like South Sudan."

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