The world’s youngest nation, South Sudan was engulfed by a civil war in 2013, pitting the country’s majority Dinka tribe of President Salva Kiir against his former vice-president Riek Machar and his Nuer tribe supporters. Unfortunately, years later, the situation remains dire as various international bodies – United Nations Children Emergency Fund, World Food Programme and FAO – have risen to help curb the inherent menace.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), as of June 2017, 2.5 million people have been misplaced from their homes, 6 million people are severely food insecure and about 8.9 million people are in urgent need of assistance. These statistics indicate that the nation is at the brink of nonexistence given that over 40 percent of the entire population is in need.
A recent report also revealed that famine has eased in South Sudan after a significant scale up in the humanitarian response. However, the situation remains grim across the country as the number of people struggling to find enough food each day has grown to 6 million – up from 4.9 million in February – and is the highest level of food insecurity ever experienced in South Sudan.
Worsening conditions are reflected across the country. The number of people facing emergency levels of hunger – one step below famine on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale – is 1.7 million up from 1 million in February. “The crisis is not over. We are merely keeping people alive but far too many face extreme hunger on the edge of a cliff,” said Dominique Burgeon, FAO’s Director of Emergencies. “The only way to stop this desperate situation is to stop the conflict, ensure unimpeded access and enable people to resume their livelihoods.”
Prior to these events, the South Sudan crisis reportedly metamorphosed with other tribes joining one side or the other, often with the hope of getting an upper hand in local conflicts over land and other issues. Unfortunately, these activities are currently on-going despite the agreement signed by the government in 2015.
Human Rights Watch documented that government soldiers have killed, raped, and tortured civilians as well as destroyed civilian properties during counterinsurgency operations in the southern and western parts of the country, and both sides committed abuses against civilians in and around Juba and other areas.As a result of the above, there have been food shortages, a deepening economic crisis, insecurity and insufficient agricultural production at household-levels.
These resultant effects have caused increased levels of food insecurity and alarming levels of malnutrition.
Acute malnutrition remains a major public health emergency in several parts of South Sudan, with surveys showing Global Acute Malnutrition prevalence above the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold of 15 percent, with a peak of 26.1 percent in former Duk County in Jonglei state. The situation is expected to deteriorate even further as the lean season peaks in July – the time of year when household food supplies typically run out before the next harvest.
In the south-west, until recently the country’s bread basket, there are unprecedented levels of hunger caused largely by conflict. Farming communities have been driven over the border into neighbouring countries, leaving behind untended fields, and analysts forecast a record high national cereal deficit for 2018. On the western bank of the Nile River in the country’s north-east corner, hunger has flared up after the renewed conflict triggered large displacements and a disruption to livelihoods, markets and humanitarian assistance.
Sadly, the increase in food insecurity has been driven majorly by the persistent armed conflict, below average harvests and soaring food prices as well as the effects of the annual lean season. Although studies show that the persistent humanitarian crisis can only be resolved by the establishment of peace, there is need for the international community to mount pressure on the South Sudanese government to resolve the crisis and restore stability in the country.