Violence in South Sudan has put people in parts of the Diocese of Malakal at risk of starvation, as well as illnesses from a lack of clean water, a local priest has warned.
“The question of food is very urgent. People are on the edge of starvation and, if nothing happens, people will fall into that situation,” Monsignor Roko Taban Mousa told Aid to the Church in Need Feb. 13. “This conflict has been devastating and very inhuman.”
The priest, who is the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Malakal in the country’s southeast, said that the states of Upper Nile, Bor and Unity are “really destroyed.”
He said up to 100,000 people in his diocese are in “urgent need” of food. At least 30,000 homes have been destroyed, with the destruction centered in the main towns of Bor, Malakal and Bentiu.
Rice, maize, beans, sugar, oil and salt are all needed, he said, along with supplies of clean water.
Overall, more than 860,000 South Sudanese are believed to have fled since the armed conflict began Dec. 15 in South Sudan's capital of Juba, following a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar. More than 1,000 have been reported killed, with some attacks being targeted by ethnicity.
Both sides accuse each other of violating a January cease-fire. A presidential spokesman said that “well-equipped” rebel forces attacked in Malakal, while a rebel spokesman accused government forces of attacking rebel positions with the support of the Ugandan army, the BBC reports.
In the Malakal diocese, there has been mass looting and attacks on pharmacies and other medical centers. Malaria and diarrhea are on the rise, Msgr. Taban said. People who have lost access to clean water are drinking from the White Nile River.
He added that the destruction in the region during the 21-year civil war that ended in 2005 was “never as bad” as what the region is suffering now.
The priest stressed the importance of prayer.
“People need to pray for us,” he said. “We feel that sense of solidarity when people pray for us.”
“For those who have suffered so much, knowing that there are people who are praying for them will encourage them and give them back their hope.”
The renewed fighting will likely cause problems for peace talks in Ethiopia as well. The second phase of the talks began last week, though there was uncertainty about whether seven prominent politicians whom the South Sudan government released would participate, the BBC says. The leaders, allies of Machar, had been detained in December for an alleged coup attempt.