South Sudan: 'A Cesspool of Human Suffering'
JUBA, South Sudan -- Four years ago on July 9, 2011, South Sudan became an independent nation after decades of fighting. Many hoped peace would finally take hold, but that hasn't happened.
As CBN News discovered, war has again gripped this new country leaving thousands dead and millions displaced.
"We never imaged our country would turn out this way," said one South Sudanese lady at a market in the capital city Juba.
There was so much hope and enthusiasm about the prospects of South Sudan moving forward. Years later the country is engulfed in civil war.
Constant Civil War
The fighting started in the capital Juba in December 2013 after South Sudan's president accused his vice president of an attempted coup. Soldiers loyal to both men turned on each other.
Since then, war has engulfed seven of the country's 10 provinces.
"Too many people are getting killed, including small children and women," a man named John, who owns a small meat business in Juba, said. "It's really very bad, I feel so sorry."
In four short years, South Sudan went from the world's newest country to its most fragile.
Trail of Tears
His group has been working in South Sudan since 1989. Stearns said the war is leaving a trail of tears and unspeakable human suffering.
"This is terrible place to be a child, a terrible place to be a family in so many ways because there are so many different threats to your livelihood and well-being. Whether it's lack food or lack of clean water or lack of sanitary facilities, lack of educational opportunities, lack of economic development, or conflict, as we've seen,is happening in this country," he said.
Violence committed by both sides is intensifying. The United Nations says hundreds of "girls as young as 8 have been gang raped and murdered," and "Boys have been castrated and left to bleed to death."
Last week U.N. investigators accused South Sudanese government soldiers of "raping scores of women and girls, then burning them alive."
"The spirit of independence day was a spirit of peace," Ariane Quentier, spokesperson for the United Nation's mission in South Sudan, said.
People aren't working. Farmers aren't planting. Two million people have fled their homes. Many have escaped to neighboring countries. Others live in the bush or swamps.
"It's been very disheartening to see the potentially bright future of this brand new country be put on hold," Stearns told CBN News during a World Vision sponsored trip to South Sudan.
Protecting the Citizens
Since the conflict began in December 2013, the United Nations has operated several Protection of Civilian sites. There's a POC site in the capital city Juba that's home to some 22,000 refugees. An additional eight sites are scattered around the country, housing some 130,000 displaced persons.
Quentier said that number is just the tip of the iceberg.
"We probably have something like 3 million people between refugees and displaced persons who have been affected by this war," Quentier said.
World Vision oversees food distribution at the camp. Ngure Murithi heads the operation and said his team ensures that no one slips through the cracks without food.
"They get sorghum, they get beans, they get vegetable oil, and they get salt," Murithi said.
Mary Namon has lived in the camp for nearly two years.
"I have no other option but to stay here until this war ends," she said.
She's lucky to even have food to eat. Far from the camp, in towns and villages in the war zone, people are dying of starvation.
Reaching those in desperate need can be logistically challenging.
Flying to Save
Here's a staggering fact: South Sudan is roughly the size of the state of Texas and there are only 200 miles of paved tarmac so the best way to get to these locations is via plane.
On a recent afternoon, CBN News joined World Vision as they traveled to a remote village far from the capital city.
Here aid workers race frantically to save a quarter of a million children, like Aguit, who are suffering from severe malnutrition.
Aguit came to the facility operated by World Vision. One of the things they do right away is to get a physical and weight assessments. Aguit, who is 13 months, should typically weigh around 19 pounds. He weighs only 12 pounds.
World Vision nurse Damaris Wanjiku said a combination of therapeutic milk and nutrient-rich foods will keep him and other kids in this village alive.
"The mothers go home with the children then they return every seven days and then we check their weight just to monitor the progress and then we give them more supplies for another week."
The program continues until each child is healthy.
"My baby would be dead if it wasn't for this nutritional center," said one mother who brought her child to the World Vision nutrition center. "Thank God he's getting better every day."
It's a glimmer of hope in a young nation spiraling out of control.
Despite several attempts at peace, both sides are unwilling to compromise and silence their guns.
For now, the fighting rages on with tens of thousands dead and no end in sight.
For aid groups, it's a battle against the odds to save lives as experts warn of a catastrophic famine that could affect up to 5 million people.