On Monday, the Republic of South Sudan celebrated its first anniversary and independence from now-neighboring Sudan. Following decades of civil war, the nation separated from Sudan one year ago. Leaders of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda attended an official ceremony; meanwhile, thousands of people danced and waved flags during official celebrations of the newly formed nation in the capital city of Juba.
However, among the celebrations over the fragile new nation came much skepticism. The country remains in an ongoing border dispute with Sudan, has been beset by ethnic conflict, and faces a growing refugee crisis and food shortages. But the biggest challenge for the nation is the extreme levels of poverty, which continue to climb as hundreds of thousands of displaced South Sudanese return to their homeland. The situation is dire and is only growing worse. “Hell on earth” was how one aid worker described the conditions at one of the many temporary refugee camps.
Much of the current struggle derives from the fact that when South Sudan seceded along with independence from President Bashir and Sudan, South Sudan took 75% of Sudan’s oil; however, all of South Sudan’s oil pipelines must run through Sudan. Now the two countries cannot seem to agree on the terms of usage, leading to South Sudan cutting off all oil exports–an action that caused a collapse in government revenues and tough austerity measures. South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir stated during the independence day celebrations, “We still depend on others. Our liberty today is incomplete. We must be more than liberated. We have to be independent economically” (BBC).
Sadly, those who continue to suffer the most as the world’s newest nation works towards real independence are the children. South Sudan has one of the highest infant mortality rates and the lowest education indicator in the world, especially for girls. The children of South Sudan may survive the bombings by the Sudanese air force, but they are left to struggle to find food and water as more than half the country is in poverty and lacks access to clean water. According to Save the Children’s most recent household and health survey of children under the age of five, which came before the latest influx of refugees, more than one in four children are underweight, nearly one in three children are stunted (i.e., short and underdeveloped due to chronic malnutrition), and nearly one in four children are wasted (i.e., suffered rapid loss of muscle and fat due to acute malnutrition). The majority of South Sudanese families are without even the most basic health care, and with little access to clean water as well as poor sanitation and hygiene, infectious diseases can spread easily to children, placing them at high risk of illness or death.
As fears of an escalation of the conflict with Sudan loom, the stability of South Sudan hangs in the balance as this new country struggles to stand firmly on its own two legs–and with that so do the futures of all of South Sudan’s children. While South Sudan may have chosen peace, security and prosperity do not come hand and hand; thus, the children of South Sudan have still yet to find true peace.