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In South Sudan people are dying of starvation. The voice of CUAMM doctors

Hundreds of thousands of displaced people move from one region to the next in search of food, they are undernourished children with their desperate parents. It’s the most dramatic emergency in Africa, according to Fr Dante Carraro, chairman of Doctors with Africa CUAMM, present in South Sudan with 3 hospitals, 90 healthcare centres and over one thousand workers. It’s the African Country that Pope Francis wishes to visit with the Archbishop of Cantebury John Welby

100 thousand people risk dying of starvation in South Sudan owing to the economic and political instability caused by man, a humanitarian emergency defined “man made famine” by international organizations. For 5.5 million South Sudanese, over half of the overall population, there will be increasingly less food in the coming months. Flour and rice cost more than the mean wages. The local currency is subject to strong and sudden depreciation owing to a decline in oil prices, which the Country is rich of. Some areas are plagued by cholera. It’s the dramatic situation of the youngest world Country, that has struggled to finally obtain independence in 2011, after a decades-long war. Today it returned to be “the African Country in most need of help”, said Fr Dante Carraro, chairman of Doctors with Africa- CUAMM, a non-governmental organization focused on healthcare. After having faced the Ebola endemics in Sierra Leone, CUAMM provides active support in South Sudan through 1 023 local and 53 international healthcare workers, including some twenty Italians. Such high numbers reflect the size of the needs. In fact, clashes between the army loyal to President Salva Kiir, belonging to the Dinka ethnic group, and the opposition forces led by ex-President Riek Machar, belonging to the Nuer ethnicity, have been ongoing since 2013. Armed militia attack also civilians considered members of the rival faction. Despite growing instability and the dangers run by the workers (many NGOs have reduced their staff, while the Italian Embassy was moved to Ethiopia, with only two officers in Juba), CUAMM has decided to remain near the local population. Against this backdrop, on February 26 Pope Francis announced the possibility of an ecumenical visit to South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Primate of the Anglican Church. “It would represent an important thrust to a situation that seems to have reached a dead end”, remarked Fr Carraro, who just returned from a mission of service in the African Country, that counts some 3 million Christians.

A Country adrift. “The curfew in Juba starts every evening at 8:00, and until the city livens up it’s dangerous to go out”, he told SIR. “The Country is adrift. They failed to reach an understanding on shared governance, which foments the clashes.” To that must be added the vicious cycle in the economy. The drop in oil prices, due to the decisions of major stakeholders, has caused a decline in earnings and the depreciation of the local currency, which in turn resulted in lower salaries that dropped by 50% in the past two months. At the same time the price of foodstuffs has skyrocketed. Moreover, “the present instability coupled by fears for the presence of armed militia, prevent communication channels, vegetable seeds are not traded and local farmers have nothing to eat.”

The famine caused by the annual draught, worsened by human-caused famine, has led to starvation.

100 thousand displaced people in search of food. “It’s hard for us to fully understand what it means to ‘die of starvation’”, pointed out Fr Carraro, who with CUAMM workers and doctors has seen far too many desperate faces of mothers and fathers who have nothing to feed their children, with one-year-old toddlers weighing only 5kg, with their stomachs bloated as a result of severe undernourishment. People die for trivial reasons, infections, diarrhoea, or pneumonia. CUAMM, present with three hospitals and 90 healthcare centres in three internal States, is preparing for the arrival of

a new inflow of displaced persons, approximately 100 thousands, who are on their way from the State of Unity to Lake State in search of food and health assistance.

“80 to 90% of them are women and children. Men remain to try and defend their huts. They camp outside the hospitals. We are preparing to help them also by distributing blankets and bags of rice.”

The touching accounts of the CUAMM doctors working in the field. One of them, Dr John Major, South Sudanese, contracted cholera while treating his patients with the few medicines available and without protection. He managed to give himself an intravenous infusion and rehydrate himself.  Despite his weak conditions he wanted to go immediately back to work in Shambe: “I can’t abandon my people.” “Here too people are afraid of starving”, said Doctor Flavio Bobbio,  medical director of the Yirol Hospital. “The price of flour and rice is unaffordable for the poor living in distant villages”, he pointed out. At the end of the Papal audience of January 23 Pope Francis called to “commit not to stop at making statements, but also to provide concrete food aid and to allow it to reach suffering populations.” South Sudanese Catholic bishops appealed to “resume negotiations and seek solutions to end the war and the humanitarian crisis.”  UN Agencies are mobilizing their efforts, but Fr Carraro said he hopes that

“aids will be given without a top-down approach, in order to avert the risk of food hoarding and speculation.

It is necessary to consult the NGOs that know the territory well.”

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