South Sudan Crisis – In the midst of a devastating famine that is threatening nearly half its population, South Sudan has hiked the work permits fees for foreign aid workers by 100-fold.
The ministry of labor announced that from March 1, it will charge $10,000 for “professional” humanitarian workers up from around $100. It will now charge $2,000 for “blue collar” employees, and $1,000 for “casual workers,” according to Reuters. A majority of the foreign professionals in the country work for non-governmental agencies or are employed in the oil industry.
The move comes at a crucial time for the world’s youngest nation, which has been engulfed by the infighting between rival government and rebel forces. Since it began in late 2013, the war has led to the killing of tens of thousands of civilians, forced more than 1.5 million people to flee the country, devastated the economy, all while the leaders of the two opposing sides amassed millions of dollars in illegal wealth.
The violence has previously affected the operation of humanitarian agencies, with NGO workers assaulted and raped and food bases ransacked by government soldiers. In Dec. 2016, the government also detained and deported two officials from the Norwegian Refugee Council. Tensions have also simmered between the South Sudanese government and aid agencies in the past: in 2014, the government stated that it will ban aid workers from the country.
The announcement in South Sudan is not without a precedent in the region. In recent months, deep-seated aversion to foreign workers has come up in various countries across East Africa.
In February, Tanzania also gave foreign workers a 30-day ultimatum to foreign employees to verify their work permits and residencies. During a crackdown on workers without the necessary permit papers, the government arrested dozens of workers from India, China, Taiwan, and Indonesia.
In Kenya, the NGO board noted last year that it will revoke the licenses of organizations who do not harmonize the salary discrepancies between local and foreign staff. The country also deregistered almost 1,000 aid organizations for failure to account for their funding and introduced amendments to a law aimed at restricting external funding.
East Africa Crisis:
What is famine?
A famine is only declared when there is:
A daily death rate of more than 2 people per 10,000
Acute malnutrition rates of over 30%
20% of households facing extreme food shortage
Famine has been declared in South Sudan, one of the poorest countries in the world, where drought is being made worse by civil war.
Meanwhile, 36 million people are in urgent need of food aid in the Horn of Africa. The drought has been caused by the El Niño climate cycle. During an El Niño event, the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean can warm by 1–3°F or more, meaning some places receive more rain than usual, while others receive none at all.
The impact of the current El Niño is being felt in a number of countries from Angola to Zimbabwe; and is particularly acute in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. In Ethiopia the rains have failed for the past 2 years; 85% of crops have failed.
The UN warns that 20 million people may face starvation over the next 6 months
Older people struggling without food and water
73% of older people in sub-Saharan Africa rely on farming to live; people like Emayu. Now, instead of farming, the 60-year-old grandmother must cut trees for firewood and then walk 3 hours to the local market.
‘When I wake up each day, the first thing I think about is what my grandchildren will eat,’ says Achol, a 63-year-old grandmother from South Sudan.
‘It’s a daily struggle for us to get enough to survive. Sometimes they cry – and I cry too, because I feel guilty for not providing for them.’
‘We’re becoming weaker and weaker’
86-year-old Oboch says: ‘We’re extremely helpless. We’re becoming weaker and weaker due to a lack of good food.’
Like food, water has also become more and more difficult to come by. It often costs money to buy water in rural villages, but over three-quarters of older people in the Horn of Africa live in chronic poverty, and most do not receive a pension.
‘My feet are swollen and I’ve lost my sight’
Those who cannot afford to buy water are forced to walk up to 30km a day to gather water from lakes and ponds that are often rife with diseases and parasites.
Not everyone is able to walk. Mary, 85, says ‘I’m too weak to go to the market. My feet are swollen and I’ve lost my sight. It’s become risky for me to go out and about.’
‘I feel so helpless and alone’
80-year-old Sadire remembers how it all began. ‘The rainfall stopped. With it, crop production also stopped,’ she says.
‘The farm animals had to be sold – first the goats and sheep and then the bulls and cows. Then, my boys started cutting down the trees on our land to make charcoal.’
‘Over the past 3 years, I’ve seen everything that I’ve built all my life drift away until eventually I’m left with nothing. No animals. No cultivable land. No trees. No money. I feel so helpless and alone. I fear for our survival.’
‘Seeing my children starve makes me stressed’
Civil war in South Sudan is making an extremely difficult situation even worse for older people.
‘My husband was killed in the war so now I’m alone with the children,’ Angelina explains. ‘When I was younger, I built my own house, looked after my cows and bought my own clothes. Now there’s no way I can support myself.’
‘Seeing my children almost starve always makes me stressed and uncomfortable. We wouldn’t survive without the aid we’re given.’
Age International is helping older people to survive
Age International is working in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen and Uganda by:
Source: QUARTZ & Age International
The Upper Nile Times