Belfast Telegraph

The starving millions in Africa need our help

By Jim Clarken

South Sudan – the world's newest and poorest country – today marks three years of independence. However, there can be few celebrations since the violence that erupted last December has triggered a major food crisis.

Of the population of approximately 11 million, a shocking seven million do not have enough to eat. Some 4.9 million of these are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Oxfam is distributing food, seeds and tools, as well as providing water and sanitation. But we urgently need the international community to do more.

The human impact of the war in South Sudan has a personal resonance for me, as I lived among the country's rural communities. In Kurmuk, a town on the eastern border with Ethiopia, I watched as Sudanese refugees returned from Ethiopia in 2006.

The trauma these people endured during 20 years of civil war was overcome through phenomenal strength and personal courage.

I saw a hope for the future despite the multiple challenges they faced.

Now some of those families will be among the 1.3 million people forced to flee their homes amid increasing disease and conflict, making their way to overcrowded camps knee-deep in mud, where food, water and sanitation are urgently needed.

It is disappointing that, while many nations pushed for and supported South Sudan's independence from Sudan, little commitment is forthcoming from the wider international community in the form of aid.

The international community can increase its diplomatic pressure on the two protagonists of the conflict, deliver on pledged funds and deploy UN peacekeeping troops. It cannot absolve itself of responsibility.

For the sake of our common humanity, we cannot, we should not, look away at this time of crisis. The scenes of devastation may have become less visible in the media, but the suffering does not end.

We must act now to avoid the "forgotten crisis" becoming a crisis we cannot forget.

  • Jim Clarken is chief executive of Oxfam Ireland (

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