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Women carry foodstuffs distributed by the International Committee of the Red Cross | Coastweek

LEER COUNTY (Xinhua) -- Women carry foodstuffs distributed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in Thonyor, Leer County, South Sudan, April 11 2017. The United Nations (UN) estimates that conflict in South Sudan has displaced about 1.5 million people and another 7.5 million across the country are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, after a localized famine was declared in February in parts of northern unity state. XINHUA PHOTO: GALE JULIUS
South Sudanese resort to extreme methods to survive famine

JUBA (Xinhua) -- More than three years of conflict, displacement and hunger in South Sudan have forced many communities in the war-torn country to resort to extreme coping methods such as eating tree leaves, roots and wild fruits to survive starvation.

In a bright sunny day in Thonyor, Leer County in South Sudan’s former Unity State, Mary Nyarach, a mother of five has been queuing for nearly three hours at a seed distribution center where she is waiting to receive seeds and farm tools to enable her to plan for the next planting season.

Nyarach hopes to grow fast-growing vegetables such as okra and pumpkins to allow her to take a break from eating tree leafs, water lilies, papyrus roots and wild fruits that she has been surviving on for the past four months.

Nyarach is among thousands of people facing starvation in northern South Sudan where a localized famine was declared in February by the government and the UN.

She told Xinhua during a visit on Tuesday that together with her three young children had left the swamps in March after spending nearly four months there following an armed raid in her village of Dindin in December 2016.

“We depend on the wild fruits and leaves and sometimes if humanitarian agencies bring us food, we combine it with leaves. But if the little food assistance fails or delays, we survive on wild fruits and leafs as an alternative,” Nyarach said.

Nyarach said she would return to her village if their stability and peace, adding that peace will be the only thing to enable her family to restore their lost livelihoods.

“This year if there is calmness and stability, we can go back to our villages then we start cultivating. This relief that is coming to our area, how long will it continue coming? We need peace and stability to go back so that we go and start over again,” she said.

Another 45-year old Nyageng Nyuen also shares Nyarach’s sentiments of eating leaves and wild fruits to sustain their lives.

She said that life has become worse since renewed fighting erupted in Juba and spread across the East African nation in July 2016.

“We eat water lilies, papyrus and sometimes we go fishing, which is the only way of surviving in the swamps,” Nyuen said.

“We have undergone a difficult time within the three years of fighting. We always run to the swamps to hide ourselves and children and there we don’t have shelter and food. We have lost our livestock, houses and children,” she added.

Nyachuong Khalifa, 28-year-old mother of five who lost her husband to the civil war in 2016, said her family lost every possession to gunmen who raided villages of livestock, women and sometimes food.

“Before the conflict, we had surplus to eat, to sell and we also have so many livestock to earn a living. But our cows were all raided in 2014. I don’t have anything to survive on. This is a situation that we didn’t expect,” Khalifa said.

“When the gunmen come, they us you to harvest what is the garden if you fail, they beat you or even rape you, but for men they are just killed, and that is how my husband was killed in 2016,” she added.

“But we are not able to farm due to the conflict. Our husbands who used to dig the dykes to prevent the floods have been killed or are fighting. No one can protect us from the floods now,” she said.

South Sudan has been embroiled in more than three years of conflict that has taken a devastating toll on the people of South Sudan.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 led to the formation of a transitional unity government in April, but was again shattered by fresh violence in July, 2016.

According to UN estimates, the conflict has displaced 1.5 million into neighboring countries and another 7.5 million people across the country are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.

In February, a localized famine was declared in parts of the world’s newest country, with some 100,000 people, nearly half of the population, in dire need of food aid.

Experts have also warned that the increase in insecurity, attacks on aid workers and convoys could increase risks of famine following recent killing of aid workers and restrictions along relief supplies routes.

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