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As a Man-Made Famine Looms, Christmas Comes Early to South Sudan

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Posted on Aug 8, 2014

    Refugee family in the Yusuf Bathil camp in Maban County, Upper Nile. Photo by European Commission DG ECHO (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Nick Turse, TomDispatch

(Page 5)

From Iraq to Afghanistan, American-style nation building has crumbled, exposing the limits of American power.  Before things are over in South Sudan, Washington’s great experiment in Africa may prove to be the most disastrous effort of all.  Just three years after this country’s independence, two years after Hillary Clinton stood in this city and pledged enduring and absolute assistance, at a time when its people are most in need, the U.S. is talking about limits on aid, about backing away from the country it fostered, its prime example of nation-building-in-action in the heart of Africa.  The effects will be felt from Juba to Jonglei, Bor to Bentiu, Malek to Malakal.

If things continue as they have, by the time the U.S. Embassy throws its actual Christmas bash, the civil war in South Sudan will have entered its second year and large swaths of the country might be months into a man-made famine abetted by an under-funded humanitarian response—and it’s the most vulnerable, like Nyajuma, who will bear the brunt of the crisis.  Experts are currently debating if—or when—famine can be declared.  Doing so will exert additional pressure on funders and no doubt save lives, so a declaration can’t come fast enough for Kate Donovan of UNICEF in South Sudan.  “Waiting for data to be crunched in order to make sure all the numbers add up to famine is deadly for small children,” she says.  “It is like ringing fire alarms when the building is already burnt to the ground.” 

If history is any guide and projections of 50,000 child malnutrition fatalities are accurate, the outlook for South Sudan is devastating.  What Donovan tells me should make Washington—and the rest of the world—sit up and take notice: “Half the kids may already be dead by the time famine is actually declared.”

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  A 2014 Izzy Award winner, he has reported from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa and his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. This story is the second in a series of on-the-ground reports from Africa pursued in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.

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