South Sudan is not the first nation to be born in the midst of conflict, of course. The United States broke away from Britain for very similar reasons as South Sudan had for breaking from Sudan: the sense that the colonial masters were profiting more from America’s natural wealth than Americans were. But just as America’s independence was very nearly snuffed out by much better armed and prepared British troops in the Revolutionary War, so South Sudan is paying dearly for its disputes with Khartoum.
More than 400,000 people of South Sudanese descent have moved to South Sudan since 2010, and hundreds of thousands more remain in Sudan proper. Many of these people have no housing, no regular access to running water or sanitation, or to adequate health care. There are not enough schools to accommodate the children of these newcomers, and not enough jobs for the young men and women who left behind a better economic life in the cities of the north.
"The foundation of a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan can be strong only if we invest in the country's youngest citizens. They need to be everyone's priority so that the next generation can play an active and meaningful part in building this new nation,” said Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF representative in South Sudan, in an e-mailed statement. "The children of this country deserve a better future and it is critical that long term predictable investment is available and translates into real gains for them.”
As bad as things are, the West is not going to abandon the new nation that it spent so much time and political capital in bringing to life. Food aid keeps the poorer citizens of South Sudan alive, UN and private aid groups have fanned out across the countryside in white SUVs to help South Sudan develop the capacity to build a sustainable economy, manage its resources, and govern itself.
But the economic reality check of running a country has been a shock. Inflation for fuel and food prices in February shot up 21 percent from the same time last year, and then another 80 percent in May, according to Oxfam International. Inflation like that puts ordinary foodstuffs out of the price range of even those South Sudanese who do have savings; today 9.7 million are facing food shortages.