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Hiding in swamps, South Sudanese eat little more than lilies

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Women and children wait to be registered prior to a food distribution carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Thonyor, Leer state, South Sudan on February 26, 2017. PHOTO | SIEGFRIED MODOLA | REUTERS 

By AFP

Posted  Tuesday, February 28   2017 at  09:42

In Summary

  • More than three years of conflict have disrupted farming, destroyed food stores and forced people to flee recurring attacks.
  • The UN declared a famine in parts of South Sudan a week ago.
  • Aid workers warn that by the time a famine is declared it is already too late for some.

Thousands of people at the epicentre of a man-made famine in South Sudan emerged from the safety of the swamps this past weekend hoping to receive emergency deliveries of food.

For months now Bol Mol, a 45-year-old former oil field security officer, has struggled to keep his family alive, spearfishing in nearby rivers and marshes while his three wives gather water lilies for food.

They eat once a day if they are lucky, but at least in the swamps they are safe from marauding soldiers.

"Life here is useless," Mol said, his hand clutching his walking stick as he waited with thousands of others beneath the baking-hot sun at Thonyor in Leer County.

Food deliveries

Aid agencies have negotiated with the government and rebel forces to establish a registration centre in the village ahead of food deliveries.

The UN declared a famine in parts of South Sudan a week ago, but the hunger affecting an estimated 100,000 people is not being caused by adverse climate conditions.

More than three years of conflict have disrupted farming, destroyed food stores and forced people to flee recurring attacks. Food shipments have been deliberately blocked and aid workers have been targeted.

It is no coincidence that soaring levels of malnutrition have been found in Leer, a rebel stronghold and the birthplace of opposition leader Riek Machar, whose falling out with President Salva Kiir in December 2013 led to the civil war.

Not enough

Evidence of the devastating conflict is everywhere: in the burnt walls of schools and clinics, in the ruins of razed homes and public buildings, and in the desolation of the once-thriving market.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 was never fully implemented. As recently as December the members of yet another 56,000 households were forced to flee to the safety of the swamps when yet another government offensive reached the area.

The constant need to escape the war means people are unable to plant or harvest crops, and their livestock is often looted by armed men.

With their livelihoods destroyed, people are reduced to gathering wild plants, hunting and waiting for emergency food supplies that come too rarely and are frequently inadequate.

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