A Sudanese woman waves from across a flooded street in the town of Iboud A Sudanese woman waves from across a flooded street in the town of Iboud 

Turmoil continues in South Sudan ahead of Pope's visit

As the Pope's journey to South Sudan draws nearer, the country continues to suffer violence and the effects of natural disasters, with a vast majority of the population in need of humanitarian assistance.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis will travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to South Sudan from 31 January to 5 February 2023. His visit had originally been scheduled for the summer of 2022, but had to be postponed due to health issues.

Whereas DRC was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1985, Francis will be the first Pope to travel to South Sudan – principally because the nation only gained its independence two years before his succession to the see of Peter.

Born of a precarious humanitarian situation

The Republic of South Sudan became the world’s youngest nation and Africa’s 55th country on July 9, 2011. However, the outbreak of civil war in December 2013 and July 2016 undermined the development gains it had since achieved and made an already precarious humanitarian situation even worse. Now, more than a decade after independence, South Sudan remains impacted by fragility, economic stagnation, and instability. Poverty is omnipresent and is exacerbated by conflict, displacement, and external shocks.

As he has done before, on numerous occasions, Pope Francis on Sunday prayed for the suffering nation as he addressed the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square for his weekly Sunday Angelus. “Let us pray to the Lord for peace and national reconciliation, that the attacks will cease and that civilians will always be respected.”

Most recent violence

The Holy Father’s appeal came just two days after the United Nations warned that more than 9,000 people have fled the most recent violence in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. In its harrowing report, the United Nations added that some were forced to hide in swamps and bushes during attacks.

The bloodshed in the region has killed an unknown number of people while rape, murder and kidnapping of civilians are on the rise as the conflict intensifies.

Climate worsening

To make matters worse, the country is gripped by unpredictable climate crises. From rising temperatures to increasingly severe drought and flood events which affect lives and livelihoods, the country is extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts. Such impacts worsen the already existing widespread food insecurity, conflicts, and macroeconomic crisis.

The humanitarian crisis is serious. Some two-thirds of South Sudan’s total population of 11.4 million (2021) are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2022. Women and children continue to be the most affected.

The Pope's visit to the nation comes as a sign of hope. One of the highlights of the trip will, in fact, be a meeting with internally displaced persons and an Ecumenical Prayer service as a sign of unity. 

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12 December 2022, 15:02