South Sudan, a new nation midwifed into being by the United States out of the ashes of war, is sinking into a mire of senseless violence and chaos. President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar are wrecking their country in a conflict that has lasted more than 100 days and threatens more severe human suffering in the months ahead.

Since a schism between the two men triggered fighting between their forces in December, an estimated 1 million people have been driven from their homes.

International relief workers are warning that time is running out to avert widespread hunger.

The cause of all this misery is a bitter conflict between Kiir, from the majority Dinka ethnic group, and Machar, of the Nuer group. Their forces have continued fighting despite a January cease-fire agreement. The violence has impeded humanitarian work everywhere in the country. Diseases including measles, malaria, meningitis and diarrheal illnesses threaten the population.

It is not hard to put together a checklist of what should be done. First, Kiir and Machar must stand down their forces and participate in a democratic process that includes all. They must stop attacks on humanitarian aid workers and convoys so that desperately needed food and medicine can get through.

South Sudan’s independence was a foreign policy success for the Obama administration, but it is turning into a nightmare. The United States can still help the people of South Sudan build a better future, but first, and urgently, Kiir and Machar must step back from the abyss.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.