South Sudan in crisis

Sarah John walked hundreds of miles with her four children to reach the MSF camps on the South Sudanese border with Kenya. Photo: Wairimu Gitau, MSF.Sarah John walked hundreds of miles with her four children (pictured) to reach the Medicins Sans Frontier camps on the South Sudanese border with Kenya. Aged between two and seven, the children are among almost one million refugees fleeing conflict in the world’s newest nation.

Almost three years ago the world looked on as South Sudan celebrated independence, and looked to the future. But in December agreement between the main ethnic groups came to a violent end.

An uneasy alliance between the President and Vice-President broke in July when the VP was dismissed. Violence broke out in mid-December, and reports of armed soldiers on the streets signaled an end to peace. A ceasefire declared on January 23rd has not lessened the violence.

UNHCR estimated this month there are “over 739,000 people … internally displaced and a further 196,921 sheltering in neighbouring countries” because of the escalating conflict.

A senior MSF medic told an audience in Dublin earlier this month that the situation can now be described as a crisis.

Retired British surgeon Professor Paul McMaster worked in South Sudan for a month from Christmas, joining over 3,000 local and international staff on the ground.

‘It was just after midnight when they called me to see a young girl of about 12 who had collapsed. Sitting on the floor next to her, was her seven or eight year old brother.

‘She had walked three or four days from the North, without food or water, her father had stayed behind and they had been separated from their mother. Her only carer was her brother. It was Christmas morning,’ he said.

Prioritising hunger, conflict prevention, democracy and media freedom

Irish President Michael D Higgins speaking at the opening of the Hunger • Nutrition • Climate Justice • 2013 conference in Dublin. Ireland's focus on hunger should be applauded. Photo: eu2013.ie.Ireland is conducting a public review of its Foreign Policy and External Relations. Below would be some of our priorities in the context of Ireland's laudable current strategic objectives:

Ireland's focus on hunger should be particularly applauded. We would argue that hunger should be its number one foreign policy priority, given Ireland's history, its recent success pushing that agenda, the urgency of the problem, and the very strong empirical evidence and expert economic consensus that fighting hunger is among the most cost-effective public policies.

Ireland is right also to prioritise peace and human rights. However, it should focus on conflict prevention because a) is badly neglected and b) it is much more cost-effective than peace-keeping and peace-making.

Most of the worst recent civil conflicts have occured when power or wealth was distributed unequally between identifiable groups, which then fought to change or preserve that distribution (sometimes motivated by fear). That was the case in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and, most recently, in Iraq. It was also true in Northern Ireland and is true of Syria.