On July 9th 2011, South Sudan gained its independence, putting an end to a twenty-year civil war between the Khartoum regime and the separatist rebels in the South. The youngest state in the world boasts significant oil reserves but suffers from a lack of development and especially a lack of infrastructure. However, the fact that an agreement was reached on some major points of contention with Sudan (including border limits, citizenship, the sharing of debt and the sharing of oil revenues) made it possible to consider implementing longer term projects which would contribute to the development of the country.
Between the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, the arrival on South Sudanese soil of 200,000 Sudanese fleeing the fighting between the Sudanese government forces and a Sudanese rebel group, the SPLA-N, triggered major security problems. The refugees settled in relatively remote rural areas that lacked the infrastructure necessary to cope with their arrival, but where their presence did not create too much tension with the local communities. However, a very large-scale humanitarian operation had to be put in place to respond to their basic needs.
On December 15th
2013, violent clashes broke out in Juba, the capital city, between the army, controlled by President Salva Kiir, and supporters of the former vice-president Riek Machar. The political disagreement between the two men is in fact linked to the rivalry between the two main ethnic groups in the country, the Dinka and the Nuer: Salva Kiir, from the Dinka people, accused Riek Machar, from the Nuer people, of an attempted coup and tried to have him arrested. The latter denied the charges and managed to flee with other Nuer leaders. He took up arms with a view to asserting the right of other ethnic groups in South Sudan to be able to take part in the running of the country. In the days that followed, the conflict spread throughout the country, leaving thousands dead - a vast majority of them civilians, killed solely because of their ethnic origin.
The attempts at mediation led by the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, have led to several cease-fires being signed - but these were never respected by the warring parties.
In this context, the bases of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) became places of refuge for the ethnic minorities of each town. The estimated number of displaced persons and refugees varies between 1 and 1.4 million: around 500,000 took refuge in neighboring countries (Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda), 100,000 people live in the UNMISS bases in Juba, Malakal, Bor and Bentiu and between 400,000 and 800,000 people live in makeshift camps or with host populations.
As a result - and bearing in mind that the food security situation in the country has always been precarious due to the lack of infrastructures facilitating trade - it is estimated that nearly 3.5 million people could face a severe food crisis. The alert was raised in 2014, but it would appear that the endangered populations managed to find alternative sources of food. However, for a number of reasons, there is much greater concern as we enter 2015. Displaced populations have more often than not exhausted their alternative resources, there was almost no agricultural production in the country in 2014, and insecurity is a huge impediment to the circulation of goods between the different regions of the country.
- 10.84 million inhabitants (2012) and 1.2 million displaced persons and refugees (OCHA 2014)
- Ranked 166th out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index (2013) (UNDP 2014)
Last updated - December 2014
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