A humanitarian group says unless South Sudan has a sustained period of peace, it will never be able to provide the necessary infrastructure, healthcare and education for its people. World Relief is calling on the international community to intervene in the growing tensions between South Sudan and Sudan.
World Relief's Don Golden said South Sudan is dependent on aid agencies for much of its infrastructure. And when tensions with Sudan escalate to fighting – as is happening along many border areas – civilians bear the brunt.
"Planes begin to fly. Bombs begin to drop. And communities suffer. NGOs like ours are restricted in their access to communities and the nation stays in perpetual emergency," he said.
South Sudan has been an independent nation for less than a year, following a referendum last July. Golden, the group's senior vice-president of Church Engagement, says the country needs a prolonged period of peace.
"You need 5 to 7 to 10 years, especially in a place like South Sudan. It's not even extreme poverty. Much of South Sudan is absolute poverty . It's a place where agencies, like World Relief, working with local churches and local communities, need peace so that they can begin to see change. That takes a long time," he said.
Recent fighting forced World Relief to withdraw 16 staff members from its office in Bentiu, capital of Unity State. So they're unable to continue with health care, for example.
Golden said, "It means that supplementary feeding that we've been providing for the most malnourished is suspended. And it could, in effect, lead to, especially children, being more vulnerable and even potentially dying."
The group's support for agricultural programs in Unity State has also been suspended.
"There have been cyclical droughts that have been growing because of climate change. This particular part of the world is not immune to that. That means our work with building up the resilience of local subsistence farmers comes to an end. And that particularly has dangerous implications for farmers, for their families, for their communities. Even when it's not acute malnutrition - the kind that draws cameras from around the world – it affects the learning capacity of a generation," he said.
World Relief is calling on the U.S., the United Nations, the African Union and others to ensure war does not resume between north and south. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement had ended decades of conflict that took millions of lives.
The country's massive oil reserves have made South Sudan of strategic importance for the U.S., China and other countries.
World Relief is owned by the National Association of Evangelicals, a 45,000 member church body.
In related news, the U.N. World Food Program said border fighting has pushed more people into hunger. It says the situation was "already precarious." It warns more people will be displaced and "fragile livelihoods disrupted."