The country's bishops have appealed for 'immediate and unconditional' intervention

The Catholic bishops of South Sudan have issued an appeal for “immediate and unconditional concrete intervention” as the humanitarian situation in the region grows increasingly desperate.

The bishops warned in a statement that an estimated 4.9 million people will be in food crisis and many close to famine by April. They added: “The figure is expected to rise to 5.5 million people at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.”

They said: “The food security situation in South Sudan continues to deteriorate since the outbreak of fighting in December 2013, the humanitarian crisis has spiralled with more than three million people fleeing the conflict and seeking refuge in neighbouring countries and others as internally displaced persons hosted across the country.

“We anticipate a difficult time ahead in 2017 as our people are likely to witness mass starvation by virtue of their multiple displacement, especially as the states that traditionally produced cereals in surplus will be missing the planting season and that will in turn lead to further food insecurity in 2017.

“We, the bishops in South Sudan, make our heartfelt appeal for the people of South Sudan who are at this critical time in need of humanitarian assistance and a peaceful solution to address the ongoing conflict in the country.

“We are aware of many countries suffering from similar crises but we can collectively avert this famine if, as a family, we share the little we have to help the desperate people suffering across the country.”

They concluded: “We, the Catholic bishops of South Sudan, call on the international community for immediate and unconditional concrete intervention and action before thousands of innocent lives are carried away and before it is too late. We urge Caritas Internationalis and the international community to take all necessary steps for immediate action.”

Bishop William Kenney, a member of the foreign affairs department of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, reiterated its call for international intervention.

He said: “Having visited the country over the past few years, I commend the pastoral message from my brother bishops in the South Sudan. The people of that country are suffering a brutal civil war, resulting in widespread violence, economic breakdown and famine.

“The world must wake up to this man-made humanitarian disaster. The violence must stop and the international community must intervene. Meanwhile, I echo their concluding words and call on all people of goodwill: ‘We call upon you to remain spiritually strong, and to exercise restraint, tolerance, forgiveness and love. Work for justice and peace; reject violence and revenge. We are with you.’

“Please remember the people of South Sudan in your prayers, support the famine relief and put pressure on our government to do their utmost to bring an end to the fighting.”