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It is Hunger that will Kill People before COVID-19, Bishops in South Sudan, Sudan Warn

Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe of Yei Diocese, South Sudan

South Sudanese are worried about dying of hunger more than COVID-19 infections, a Bishop in the countries has told ACI Africa, expressing concerns over lockdown directives issued by the government.

In an interview with ACI Africa on Wednesday, April 29, South Sudan’s Bishop of Yei, Erkolano Lodu Tombe called the attention of the government and non-governmental organizations to the fact that citizens not infected with the virus “may still die of hunger” during the lockdown.

“Hunger is everywhere; even when there is no coronavirus, there is hunger, and ours is a chronic hunger, we know it just too well,” said Bishop Tombe.

“The current lockdown situation is already becoming a problem to people who can’t go about their business looking for something to eat. Even before coronavirus comes to take their lives, they will starve unless the government and other organizations of goodwill step in to help,” Bishop Tombe said, noting that it is not the first time that his pastoral region suffered from hunger and insecurity.

Additionally, Yei, an area located in the Southwest of the country, continues to face insecurity that has spiked up in the past few days, according to the Bishop who says he has already received written threats from an infamous group in the country.

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“This situation of insecurity in Yei is not new to us; hunger is not new to us; there is nothing new to us, except coronavirus,” he said about his diocese that borders Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In his homily Sunday, April 26, the 77-year-old prelate blamed the South Sudanese army leaders for causing insecurity to the citizens by displacing and killing people.

The South Sudanese Prelate decried the displacement of citizens from their residential villages and killing of innocent civilians saying the attacks are “a wound to the people despite the government being formed.”

“These things (displacements and killings) are all there in Mukaya (an area in Yei) … it is obvious, it is clear to all of us,” Bishop Tombe said.

Speaking to ACI Africa on Wednesday, April 29, the Bishop revealed that the National Salvation Front (NAS), a rebel movement that is notorious in Yei, has circulated letters, terrorizing the citizens in the area.

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“The NAS have written and their paper is circulating around. I got information today,” he said, adding, “I am not going to comment on it. It is obvious.”

NAS is one of the South Sudan’s Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) that signed a peace declaration in Rome January this year.

In the middle of March, Thomas Cirilo, the head of the SSOMA affiliate movements cautioned South Sudanese that the formation of the transitional government will not bring peace in the country.

Concerned about the lives of his flock, Bishop Tombe said, “The soldiers are the people's defense force, and that is their work. Who are the people?” he posed, and added, “Let them (soldiers) just keep to their own directive, according to the etiquette of the soldiers.”

The Local Ordinary of Yei expressed bewilderment that insecurity was still high in the region despite public cessation of hostilities between opposing forces in the country, open display of ceasefire and signed peace agreements.

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There was a spike in the cases of COVID-19 in the country on April 28, from the six reported in a previous briefing to 34 after 28 more people tested positive for the virus, according to the report from South Sudan’s Health Ministry to the High-Level Taskforce on COVID-19 pandemic. The East-Central African nation is yet to report any recoveries from the virus and no one has died of the virus.

In neighboring Sudan, 375 cases of COVID-19 have been reported including 28 deaths and 31 recoveries.

Bishop Yunan Tombe Trille of El Obeid diocese foresees a situation where the cases may increase owing to what he says is failure by the citizens to adhere to regulations set by the government to contain the spread of the virus.

Since mid-March, Sudan government declared a health state of emergency by closing its air space except for humanitarian urgency. It also closed down its land borders with neighboring countries.

And with the current lockdown in the country, Bishop Tombe Trille who doubles as President of the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference (SCBC) that brings together the Bishops of Sudan and South Sudan says people fear that they may die of hunger.

Because of this fear, the Sudanese Prelate says, people have been disregarding the dusk-to-dawn curfew which was recently converted to total lockdown in the Northeast African country.

“The 6:00 p.m. to 6: 00 a.m. and now the total lockdown in Sudan can’t be respected by the citizens because of the harsh economic conditions they have to endure. Most of the people work daily to sustain their hand-to-mouth way of living and can’t afford the lockdown lifestyle,” he said.

Many people in Sudan are risking to rub shoulders with police and other security forces enforcing the COVID-19 restrictions in the country, according to the Sudanese Prelate.

Bishop Tombe Trille says the El Obeid Diocese has already put in place a committee of volunteers who are now seeking funds to provide support to the most vulnerable cases within the diocese.

“The Church leaders have a strong moral authority of teaching and urging the people to adhere to government directives to stop the spread of this virus. Besides, we have a committee of religious women and men, members of the faithful and vibrant youth to monitor our vulnerable members,” he says, adding, “The committee seeks funds from the faithful to help the neediest among them.”

The Bishop says that COVID-19 “has made the whole humanity vulnerable.”

“The strong ones in these difficult and strange times are those who turn to God for physical and spiritual strength in prayers,” he says.