By Bob Corker and Chris Coons
The suffering today in northern Uganda and South Sudan should move even the most hardhearted among us.
As members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we often are confronted with the question of how the United States should respond to such crises. We also have the opportunity to visit countries near and far on behalf of the American people to assess the effectiveness of programs. Yet in our travels around the world, neither of us had experienced anything like we did when we entered the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda last month.
Bidi Bidi became the largest refugee camp in the world in early April. It shelters more than 270,000 people who have fled famine in war-torn South Sudan. Each day, roughly 2,800 more refugees arrive in the country.
When many Americans think of famine, they might picture parched fields or dried-up riverbeds caused by drought. But most famines are not natural disasters; they are man-made, the result of war and violence. The fighting in South Sudan, and the ripple of misery it has generated into surrounding countries, are no exception.
Since late 2013, the civil war in South Sudan has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced nearly a third of the country’s population. One report estimates that more than 40 percent of the population faces “severe, life-threatening” hunger, including millions of children. In some cases, warring parties — including the government itself — are deliberately blocking access to aid as a tactic in the conflict.
It is hard to describe the severity of what we witnessed at Bidi Bidi. We spoke with women and children forced from their homes, in dire need of food, water and shelter. Some had been raped on the journey to Bidi Bidi.
Many mothers and grandmothers had walked for more than two weeks hoping only to find a better life for their children and grandchildren. They clung to cups of cornmeal porridge, not sure if the next ration might be smaller, or if it would exist at all.
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