In Jamam refugee camp in South Sudan, close to border with Sudan, two four-year-old boys are playing war. Each has a carefully constructed tank made of mud, syringes and razor blades. Awab Allah, in a filthy denim jacket, loads the empty syringe casing with lengths of straw. He flicks the razorblade on his tank deftly, so it hits the back of the straw, making the missile fly through the syringe. It is a direct hit on his friend Adam’s tank. The boys laugh. “They are good fighters,” Awab’s brother Musabsays. “They have seen so much war.”
In South Sudan, it is a year since Independence Day, a moment of almost overwhelming hope for both the fledgling country and the African continent. But as the world’s youngest country celebrates its first birthday on Monday, July 9, it is suffering from acute growing pains. As many as 4.7 million people – over half the population –already do not have enough to eat or face imminent serious food shortages, according to new UN figures. This is partly the legacy of food crises that date back through decades of conflict, but aid agencies say more people are now going hungry than any time since the Peace Agreement.
In the Sudanese border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile – assigned to the north by the Independence agreement, but once allied to the South – people have been dying under aerial bombardment from Government of Sudan Antonov planes and there are reports of a “scorched earth” land offensive.
A year ago, South Sudan’s oil was the literal fuel in the engine of the economy, with 98 per cent of the country’s wealth coming from the oilfields. In January, South Sudan shut down oil production and turned off the tap. In Upper Nile, the oilfields lie abandoned, the pipelines rusting. South Sudan used to produce 30,000 barrels of oil a day but objected to Sudan in the north charging it an extortionate $34USD a barrel to transport. Since the shutdown food costs have risen by 120 per cent. The effect on the North has also been paralysing, with student protests last week in the capital, Khartoum, over rising tuition fees as part of national cuts to offset loss of oil revenue.
Returnees are flooding back to the South.Some are returning to their new country by choice, but thousands of others have been ordered to leave by Sudan. More than 400,000 people arrived home between October 2010 and the first week in June this year, some with almost nothing. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people are displaced by fighting in Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
Close to the border at Jamam and other camps, there are 162,000 Sudanese refugees from across border in Blue Nile. They are safe for now from the guns and bombs that have caused them to flee their homes, but now they face a dire shortage of water. UNHCR says their situation is now‘critical’.