160 years after famine and emigration reduced the population of County Antrim by 38,500, history books reveal the devastating impact of famine upon Northern Ireland.
We cannot now allow the same fate to befall South Sudan – the world’s newest and poorest country, after just three years of independence.
The violence that erupted last December has triggered a major food crisis, which is now at a tipping point.
Of the population of approximately 11 million, a shocking 7 million do not have enough to eat. At least 4.9 million of these – equivalent to three times the population of Northern Ireland – are in need of humanitarian assistance. Children are among the most vulnerable with 1.2 million under the age of 5 in need of food, water and other vital support.
The UN has warned of impending famine unless we act now. A failure to respond at this critical juncture will mean an even bigger catastrophe.
The human impact of the war in South Sudan has a personal resonance for me, as I lived among the country’s rural communities.
In Kurmuk, a town on the eastern border with Ethiopia, I watched as Sudanese refugees returned from Ethiopia in 2006. The trauma these people endured during 20 years of civil war was overcome through phenomenal strength and personal courage. I saw a hope for the future despite the multiple challenges they faced – a lack of water, schools, infrastructure and extreme poverty.
Now some of those families will be among the 1.3 million people forced to flee their homes amid increasing disease and conflict, making their way to overcrowded makeshift camps where food, water and sanitation are urgently needed.
The current fragile ceasefire between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar provides a valuable window of opportunity for a rapid escalation of the aid effort, before the seasonal rains hamper access. Seeds and tools provided now will help ensure a much-needed harvest this year.
In addition to food, seed and tool distribution, Oxfam also provides a full water and sanitation response – including treating water directly from the Nile so it is safe to drink and building latrines.
Ballymoney Times readers can help this relief effort by visiting www.oxfamireland.org, calling 0800 0 30 40 55, or making a donation at your local Oxfam shop. Thank you.
The history books will pass their judgement. We cannot afford to wait, we cannot afford to fail.