* By Fredrick Nzwili
South Sudan church leaders are among African clerics who are highlighting a painful “hunger pandemic” in their countries, as experts warn of aggravated food insecurity in regions due to coronavirus.
Fr James Oyet Latansio, general secretary of the South Sudan Council of Churches, said the disease had devastated families, creating a “triple pandemic” including COVID-19, gender-based violence and severe hunger.
“Food security in South Sudan is very fragile and delicate. The situation is reflected in Juba city, and other towns and villages across the country,” Latansio said.
The country—the world’s newest nation with many Christians and followers of African traditional religion—is part of the eastern Africa region, where the World Food Programme warned in May that 34-43 million people could face acute food insecurity in the next three months. The agency said, without intensive efforts to contain the evolving livelihood and food security crisis, COVID-19 could turn into a hunger pandemic.
Recently, churches and agencies in the region have moved to confront the growing hunger crisis, triggered by lockdowns, curfews and other anti-COVID measures. With the measures leading to job losses, disrupting food supply chains and destroying family economies, the churches have delivered food and other basic at doorsteps.
Church leaders are confident that the threat by COVID-19 to exacerbate hunger can be extinguished with increased and right action.
“We need to act. It’s a threat and we can prevent it from materialising. We need to do what can be done for now. There is a lot of pastoral responsibility in this,” said Rev. Nicta Lubaale, general secretary of the Organization of African Instituted Churches said. The organization is working with 30,000 households, helping them produce the food they need.
In Kenya, Anglican archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit said the church had mobilised its congregations to assist especially those who do not have food and other basic needs.
“We have emphasised support for the weak, orphans, the suffering urban poor in our society—especially those who need food and other basic supplies,” said Sapit, while encouraging the congregations to continue providing support to the needy as part of preventing COVID-19.
Latansio said South Sudan’s hunger was so serious that civil servants were unable to feed their families since they were not receiving their salaries. Several political and military leaders have tested positive for COVID-19, meaning things are not moving politically, said the official, adding that fighting among rival groups was also killing and displacing the population.
“The picture of the impact of hunger pandemic is very painful. I cannot determine the exact number of the affected because everything vulnerable is affected,” said the Roman Catholic priest.
Humanitarian agencies are trying to respond in South Sudan, according to the cleric, but the organizations are worried their workers do not have proper protection.
On their part, the people are carrying out small scale farming—planting seeds and growing some basic food crops—amid the conflict and the disease.
“We believe with hope that there is still a good morning for South Sudan despite all the challenges and pain,” he added.
*Fredrick Nzwili is an independent journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.