South Sudan

South Sudan anniversary: Conflict, Covid and the climate crisis, plus UK aid cuts to peace work, threaten world's youngest country

Crucial church-led peacebuilding work in South Sudan has been terminated as a result of the UK’s 59% cut in aid to the country which marks its tenth anniversary on Friday (9 July).

The move to slash Christian Aid’s peacebuilding work, which cost £80,000 per year over the past three years, comes as peace is on the brink in South Sudan and Pope Francis is reportedly preparing to visit. It also comes three years after the fragile peace agreement which risks being undermined by ethnic and regional tensions, made worse by Covid-19 and climate impacts.

The Church plays a key role in peacebuilding in South Sudan, and has been consistently identified as one of the few South Sudanese institutions with the ability and credibility to address the root causes of conflict in a multi-level approach to peace.

The funding for Christian Aid’s programme made it possible for the South Sudan Council of Churches, in collaboration with Christian Aid, to support local reconciliation and peacebuilding efforts in conflict hotspots, engage political leaders of the country in support of the implementation of the recently signed peace agreement, engage in shuttle diplomacy within the region and internationally, and carry out anti-hate speech campaigning as well as countering fake news and misinformation of Covid-19 and vaccines.

With a legacy dating back to the first rebellion in the 1970s between the north and the south where church leaders played a crucial role in ending the conflict through the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement, Church leaders still retain respect from political and military leaders, shored up by the support of the global Church, including the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and the former Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams, who is Christian Aid’s chair.

James Wani, Christian Aid’s country director in South Sudan, said: “These cuts risk having a lethal effect on the chances of a lasting peace here. The Church continues to build trust between the parties and provide moral guidance through amplifying the voices of grassroots communities to build political will for peace. The Church reaches across the nation through deep local networks, and has played an important role in local peacebuilding for decades, while striving to ensure that local voices and concerns are reflected in the national-level process. We stand with the people of South Sudan, and alongside charities across the world calling for signatories to the South Sudan peace agreement to implement the agreement, both in letter and in spirit, and to help bring back the people it aims to protect from the brink of famine and ultimately end continuous suffering around the country.“

The 10th anniversary of South Sudan’s formation as a country also comes as it faces a hunger crisis: over 7 million people – some 60% of South Sudan’s population – are struggling to get enough food to live on and 82% are living in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, according to the UN, six of the country’s counties are already categorised as being in a ‘Phase 5 Catastrophe’, which means people face starvation, death, destitution and debilitating levels of acute malnutrition; and 34 states are at level 4, meaning very high acute malnutrition and excess deaths.

Responding to the crisis, Christian Aid launched a global hunger appeal with a South Sudan focus last month. The appeal has raised more than £400,000 so far.

Around the world, more than 41 million people in 43 countries are on the brink of famine, and without immediate action, many women, men and children will die.

The triple crisis of climate change, Covid, and conflict has led to spiralling food prices and rising hunger in many of the world’s poorest communities.

Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, Christian Aid’s chief executive, said: “We join a growing number of Conservative MPs here in asking that the UK Government reverse its aid cuts to South Sudan and other affected countries, and work with us to consign conflict and famine to the history books. We also ask that the UK Government recognises the unique role the Church plays in peacebuilding in South Sudan as it marks its tenth anniversary as a country.”