On July 9, 2011, the country of South Sudan etched its hopeful borders onto the world map as the youngest state today. However, this new state is not born innocent with time to develop and grow, but instead already knows years of untold violence and debilitating poverty. Not yet a year old, South Sudan is a fledgling country facing state-wide crises that even established and economically developed countries would struggle to address and overcome.
A multitude of issues remain unresolved, including finalizing borders and creating a government which can ensure security, basic health care, and education for all its citizens. This, however, remains a great challenge as South Sudan lacks the very necessary infrastructure and political stability, both internally among ethnic groups and externally with its northern neighbor, to enable this change and growth. These issues combined with a border conflict that is escalating every day, makes it imperative that the international community not turn their back on this new and now greatly vulnerable nation.
Armed forces on opposing sides of the contested north/south Sudanese border currently face each other for this first time since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. Just this week, Sudanese warplanes bombed a South Sudanese town furthering the threat of a full-blown war between the two nations. The Washington Post also recently reported that both countries have backed proxy rebel forces inside each other's borders and engaged in high stakes verbal assaults that have drawn them closer to war.
Therefore, the fact that South Sudan is now independent does not lower the stakes for the international community, but instead raises them.
The events of this past month, and the relative silence by the media on the escalating violence in the region, is a frightening reminder that turning a blind eye to the people of South Sudan could unravel years of peace work. It is then all the more important that the United Nations, African Union, local government and the multitude of international NGOs in the region recommit to furthering peace if a return to violence is to be avoided.
War will have a devastating impact on both countries -- over two million lost their lives during the last civil war. To turn our attention from South Sudan now risks undermining the work of the last decade that brought it to statehood. July 9, 2011 was not the end of this region's story, but the fragile and hopeful beginning of a new era of independence and opportunity. If we continue to stand now for peace in South Sudan, then their first chapter as a nation could read of new schools and children living past their 5th birthdays, instead of burned marketplaces and displaced refugees.
Co-authored with Francesco Paganini.
Don Golden and Francesco Paganini are respectively church engagement and disaster response executives with Baltimore-based Christian aid agency World Relief. World Relief has had a presence in the North and South Sudan regions for more than 15 years, and works with local church partners to serve their communities through agricultural, healthcare and education initiatives. For more information, visit www.worldrelief.org.