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From Famine's Front Line

by Gerry Lynch last modified 21 Jul, 2017 02:48 PM

Senior priest visits famine-stricken parts of South Sudan; appeal breaks £100k before closing

A senior priest in the Diocese has returned from seeing first-hand how the Bishop of Salisbury’s Lent appeal is helping people living in the face of famine in South Sudan.

The Revd Canon Ian Woodward, Vicar of Salisbury Cathedral Close and Chair of the Salisbury-Sudan Partnership reported on his visit as it was announced that the Lent appeal would finally close on 31 August – after raising more than £100,000 for helping those affected by famine in the East African country.

‘Magnificent Response’

The JustGiving page has just been closed. There are some final fundraisers scheduled in the summer and final donations must be sent to Church House by 31 August. The current total is £102,633, and is expected to approach £110k by close.

Special mention should be made of the Upper Sixth at Harper House in Sherborne School, who organised a 24-hour football match in memory of Rachel Boulding, the Church Times journalist who tragically died earlier this year, for a cause that was very important to her. Her widower teaches at the school. The Sixth Formers raised a total of £5,779.

Bishop Nicholas said, “This has been a magnificent response to the Lent Appeal for the famine in Unity State in South Sudan.

“Food supplies are being delivered to the needy and in partnership with Christian Aid we are hopeful of reaching up to 6,0000 people through a carefully regulated system of food vouchers using local traders, thereby building a small economy and encouraging the refugees to grow more of their own food in peace.”

Report from South Sudan

“I spent just over two weeks in South Sudan around the turn of the month”, reported Canon Ian, “partly in Juba, and partly in two of the most fragile parts of the country, Nyal and Malakal. In Nyal, I was in an area controlled by the opposition faction connected to Riek Machar.

“Nyal is close to Unity State, where the famine is at its absolute worst, and from where many refugees have fled. Christian Aid and its local partner UNIDO are working with refugees and the money raised in the Diocese is making a substantial contribution.

“Most of the refugees in Nyal are members of South Sudan’s second largest ethnic group, the Nuer, who had to flee Unity State as the fighting drifted increasingly into ethnic massacres. They had to abandon their possessions and many walked for five or six days through the Nile swamps to escape, often up to their necks in water. Some were carrying young children on tarpaulins to keep them out of the water.

“Now they are working hard to survive, their tukuls and tents are surrounded by food crops and there isn’t a weed in sight. Many still need additional food aid to avoid malnutrition or even starvation.

“The camp assistance system is efficient and organised. People in the camp are registered and the head of household – usually a woman – is thumbprinted to prevent abuse of the system. To help strengthen the local economy, local traders are recruited who will accept food vouchers, ensuring the local majority who are not refugees also see benefit. This is important in the context of the national economic collapse.

“The overall intensity of the famine is at Level 5, the highest level on the scale, indicating societal breakdown and widespread mortality. The people we are working with are at Level 4, where there is widespread social breakdown and markets can expect to collapse. As well as keeping refugees alive and fed, we are keeping some semblance of economic order intact for long-term Nyal residents.”

There is real passion in Ian’s voice as he discusses the gap between South Sudan’s potential and the disappointing reality since independence in 2011. Inflation touched 50% per month at some points in 2016, and although it has ‘eased’ in recent months to around 30% per month, making the South Sudanese pound one of the most rapidly depreciating currencies.

Civil war has slashed production in the oil industry which produces more than 99% of government revenues. Armyworm, and invasive species which arrived from the Americas last year, threatens to destroy crops and pasture.

“One of the real tragedies of South Sudan”, he says, “is how much of the crisis is caused by a failure of governance. The country could be a net exporter of food.”

Challenging Travels

Canon Ian’s travels around South Sudan were challenging, given the lack of roads and ongoing civil war.

“After spending some time in the capital, Juba, I got a flight to Rumbek which connected with a helicopter to Nyal, where I visited the camps where people are being supported by money raised in Salisbury.

“Then I returned to Juba. Christian Aid were terrific, with very impressive South Sudanese and expat staff working on the ground. I met with officials at the British Embassy, the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and the South Sudan Council of Churches, as well as attending services at the Cathedral.

“I then travelled to Malakal, where there is a United Nations peacekeeping base partly run by soldiers from the Royal Engineers, along with colleagues from India and Ethiopia. British troops are also building a hospital in Bentiu.

“At Malakal base there is a camp for around 35,000 displaced people, generally of the Shilluk and Nuer ethnicities. The Most Revd Hillary Garang, Archbishop of Upper Nile Province, and spent time in the camp with the Anglican pastor there. We also discussed how the Anglican Cathedral in Malakal could be repaired.

“When Hillary was in the UK last year, we went to Ripon where 21 Royal Engineers are headquartered, and met with them before they deployed, so it was a meeting of old friends.

“We discussed how to improve chaplaincy in the South Sudanese Army. Many atrocities have been committed with impunity and effective Christian chaplaincy could modify the behaviour of SPLA soldiers in the field.”

New Province for Sudan

As well as with South Sudan, Salisbury has a partnership with Sudan, where the Episcopal Church will become the newest member of the Anglican Communion later this month. Canon Ian will represent the Diocese at the inauguration of the new Province by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, in Khartoum.

The first Primate of the new Province, will be the Most Revd Ezekiel Kondo, Archbishop of Khartoum, who is a well-known and much-loved figure in the Diocese of Salisbury.

“There are practical tasks to attend to as well”, said Canon Ian, “We will be increasing our support to the new Province of Sudan, including increasing support to theological education and training and, in collaboration with the Diocese of Leeds, with establishing a Provincial Office.

“Things have been difficult for Christians in Sudan, but we hope the Church will be able to flourish. The UK is opening stronger trade links with Sudan which may ease the contacts between the Church in both countries.”

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