2015 Finalist

Book Award Years

Fabio Bucciarelli - On the Brink of the Abyss

The first time I was in South Sudan was in 2012, after its independence. I remember the look on people’s faces - tired but happy, hopeful for a better future after a past full of pain and war. I returned in February 2014 to notice that, only a couple of short years later, South Sudan was on the brink of abyss.

The conflict, which began with a power struggle between President Salva Kiir of the Dinka ethnicity, and his deputy Machar, of the Nuer ethnic group, has transformed into a full blown ethnic war. In December 2013, after having been banished from the country's political life, Machar took refuge in the Unity State, his native area; he gathered his troops among the dissident army and people of the Nuer ethnicity and began his direct attack on Juba. Firstly he conquered Malakal, then Bor. Finally, he was arrested and sent back by the Ugandan soldiers come to rescue President Salva Kir.

In February 2014, with help of the Italian NGO CCM (Comitato  Collaborazione Medica) - I moved from Juba to Yirol, crossing Mingkaman. I went to the Lake State, where, over several days, I documented some of the hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced by the current unrest. These refugees constructed makeshift shelters out of seemingly nothing. Under a tropical sun and in scorching temperatures, they sought shelter in the shade of leafless trees, without food, health and medical services. Some non-governmental organizations are working on the ground to provide assistance - trying in vain to alleviate the suffering of these new people without land.

The Sudanese conflict (like, generally speaking, most conflicts in Africa) is largely invisible. These wars are hidden and quick. It's hard to find front-line war photography of the kind we’ve seen in Libya or Syria. The images in South Sudan are different, more subtle: they describe visually the effect of the impending war, lending you a view of the civilian and military populations and providing a glimpse of life inside a murky, not clearly defined conflict. Causing death, disease and poverty since decades and decades, this ' invisible ‘conflict represents one of the longest and most forgotten African wars. Its apparent stillness leads to hear about it less and less, given the tragic consequences and repercussions on the population, I find it essential to bring it to light.

On The Brink of the Abyss is a long term project whose aim is to document the evolution of South Sudan and its state of conflict, while remembering the deep origin of an unknown Africa.

A Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) government soldier from the 2nd Battalion smokes a cigarette at the SPLA headquarters in Nyang, in the county of Yirol East, South Sudan. 

A South Sudanese woman fights for food supplies, distributed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the Mingkaman temporary camp, South Sudan.

A South Sudanese Internally Displaced Person (IDP) walks in the temporary camp in Mingkaman, South Sudan.

Women grieve the loss of their home in a village between Mingkaman and Bunagok. 

Aerial view of Mingkaman IDPs' camp located on the banks of the White Nile. On the other side of the river lies Bor, the town fought between the army and the rebels.

Young displaced Dinka walking on the banks of the White Nile in Mingkaman's refugee camp.

Nuer child passes through the barbed wire in the IDP camp in Juba. In this camp, run by the UNMISS mission in Juba, thousands of Nuer ethnicity's South Sudanese have sought protection from Dinkas' attacks. 

Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) government soldiers from the 2nd Battalion pose at the SPLA headquarters in Nyang, in the county of Yirol East, South Sudan.


Residents attend the Sunday Christian mass at Yirol church. Fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar erupted in South Sudan, sparking heavy clashes across the country that have left thousands dead and displaced close to 900,000 people.

An SPLA soldier recovers after losing his leg during a firefight with rebels in Yirol East.

Dinka guardian checks his cattle in the Cattle Camp near Yirol. The cows are the heart of South Sudan's economy, they represent wealth and prosperity. For generations, young Dinkas guard the herds.

Young Dinka plays with a carcass in the Cattle Camp near Yirol.