South Sudan: Fear of food crisis in the world’s youngest nation
With the conflict in South Sudan in its fourth month, and with a million people having fled their homes across the country, aid groups are now warning of the possibility of a serious food crisis by year’s end.
The UN estimates that more than 815,000 people are displaced right now, with a further 270,000 having fled the country. Almost 63,000 are living in UN bases across South Sudan, with many more living in hiding away, from their homes and land.
With the imminent onset of the rainy season, this is the time when crops should be planted. A failure to act now, aid groups say, will see the current pervasive food insecurity deteriorate into widespread hunger.
One million people displaced in 100 days
Even before conflict broke out in December 2013, South Sudan had some of the poorest humanitarian indicators in the world. It ranked at the bottom of global rankings for maternal and child mortality and over half the population lived below the poverty line. Since the conflict started, the situation has deteriorated even further.
One million people have been displaced in the 100 days since fighting first started in Juba on 15 December. A quarter of these people have fled to neighbouring countries. Many families have returned to refugee camps in Kenya and Uganda, the same places where they sought refuge during the country’s decades’ long civil war which ended in 2005.
Some people even fled to Sudan’s Darfur region – itself a highly insecure area. “I never thought I would see the day when people would flee their country and go to Darfur, and yet that is what we have seen,” said South Sudan’s Humanitarian Coordinator, Toby Lanzer.
Widespread hunger expected
As a result of the conflict, an estimated 7 million people face the threat of a severe food crisis by the end of the year. Less than six months ago, the food situation in South Sudan seemed to be improving. Significant improvements in food production had brought last year’s harvest to 22 per cent above the five year average.
This progress is now rapidly eroding.
Many South Sudanese are not able to plant their crops because they have fled their homes and it is unsafe for them to return. Fishing areas can no longer be reached, and livestock has been scattered and slaughtered. People have been forced to dramatically reduce their diets.
Appeal critically underfunded
Efforts to help people are also being hampered by a slow response from donors. The UN and its humanitarian partners need $232 million in the next three months to provide a lifeline to people affected by the crisis.
However, despite the soaring humanitarian needs, the South Sudan Crisis Response Plan – which calls for $1.27 billion over 2014 – is only one third funded.
Relief organizations have reached over 1 million people across the country with food aid so far, but more needs to be done. With additional funding, aid agencies can provide much-needed seeds and tools, as well as fishing nets and animal vaccinations. Funding now not only lessens the prospect of famine but also makes for a more effective aid operation.
Race against time
The rains have arrived in the south of the country and will move northward, submerging the homes and livelihoods of some 1.8 million people, including 300,000 people displaced along the Nile and Sobat rivers.
“There is no time to lose”, said Toby Lanzer. “Funding provided now will help preposition lifesaving aid in key locations, so that aid agencies can continue to help people in the months ahead”.
“The situation today is extremely serious,” he said. “We are facing one of the greatest humanitarian challenges that I have ever seen and it could get a lot worse. My message to donors is don’t be shy, don’t wait. Every dollar that is given today can enable us to help South Sudan with seeds, tools, fishing nets, to help enable people to look after themselves.”