JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan marked four years of independence from Sudan on Thursday, but the celebrations were tempered by concerns about ongoing violence and the threat of famine.
South Sudan became the world's newest nation in 2011 following a vote to secede from northern neighbor Sudan. But the young country fell into war after just 18 months as a result of a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, who is now the leader of rebel forces controlling some parts of South Sudan.
There is "nothing that we can celebrate" about the independence anniversary, said the prominent South Sudanese activist Edmund Yakani. "From 2013 until now there is a huge loss of lives, huge violence going on, and humanitarian crisis."
The conflict has forced over 2 million people from their homes, including 730,000 to neighboring countries. Inflation has skyrocketed, with the South Sudanese pound losing more than half its value this year against the U.S. dollar. And families risk starving to death in the Greater Upper Nile region where fighting is most intense, according to the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
As South Sudan's conflict continues, "the malnutrition numbers that we're seeing now make me profoundly concerned that too many children in this country won't reach their fifth birthday," said Aimee Ansari of CARE International.
Multiple attempts to find a political solution to the conflict have not succeeded
The independence anniversary is a time to celebrate but also "to reflect on the terrible costs borne by its citizens in the many years of conflict leading to independence," the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Thursday.