The Forgotten Civil War In South Sudan

Almost 400,000 people have died in South Sudan’s civil war, far outstripping previous estimates of the number of deaths in the five-year conflict that has driven millions from their homes. About 190,000 of those deaths, mostly adult men, were attributable directly to the war. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which conducted a study funded by the US government, said that the others were due to indirect causes such as diseases and reduced access to healthcare. The figure would make the civil war in South Sudan one of the bloodiest conflicts this century. An estimated 500,000 people have been killed in Syria.

The South Sudan study covered the period from December 2013 to last April and suggested that the war’s true death toll may be “considerably higher.” The country, the world’s newest, has been in the throes of a war that broke out in 2013, ending the two years of fragile peace that followed the nation’s independence from Sudan in July 2011. Widespread violence erupted after a power struggle between President Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, who come from the two main ethnic groups in the country. The United Nations recently accused the government of potential “war crimes” during a campaign that targeted villages suspected of being loyal to Mr Machar. In addition to ethnic conflict, famine and disease in recent years have stalked the population and forced more than two million of the country’s 12 million people to flee. Several peace agreements between the warring parties have been signed, only to fall apart and for fighting to resume. A new peace deal was signed in Ethiopia this month, reinstating Mr Machar as Mr Kiir’s vice-president. The accord was met with cautious optimism in South Sudan, but many observers are sceptical about its chances of long-term success.

Determining death tolls during protracted conflicts is notoriously difficult because the infrastructure in South Sudan is so limited. The report suggested that deaths in the country peaked last year and in 2016. Previous estimates of the war’s casualties have been much lower. In March 2016, the United Nations estimated that about 50,000 people had been killed to that point. Representatives of the government in South Sudan have said that the study’s figures are exaggerated. They put the toll in the tens of thousands.

Credit: Krista Mahr for The Times, 27 September 2018.