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South Sudan: Last chance to prevent famine

16 May 2014


March 2014: Children displaced by the fighting between rebel soldiers and government troops eat their daily meal at the Tomping camp, home to over 20,000 people in Juba, South Sudan. Children in displacement sites are especially vulnerable to malnutrition. Credit: UNICEF South Sudan/Kate Holt
Nearly four million people could face famine this year if immediate action is not taken to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan.

As the international community prepares to gather in Norway next week to pledge more support for aid efforts in South Sudan, humanitarian organizations remain gravely concerned for communities who could face famine this year if immediate action is not taken to help improve their lives and access to food.  

Conflict in South Sudan, which started in mid-December 2013, has left a third of the population severely food insecure. Many people are unable to farm, tend to their livestock and feed their families. The Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that there is a high likelihood that the situation could worsen during the second half of 2014. UNICEF has reported that 50,000 children are at serious risk of dying of malnutrition, especially those who have been displaced.

‘Last chance to help prevent famine and uphold rights’

The international conference about to take place in Oslo, Norway, “is the last best chance for donors to help aid agencies prevent famine and uphold rights,” says the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer.

About $1.26 [1] billion is still needed to meet the total needs for 2014 of $1.8 billion.  This additional funding will allow aid organizations to provide food, shelter, water and other life-saving support.

At the Tomping UN base in Juba, one-year old Nyadien is being treated for severe malnutrition at a health centre run by the international NGO, Concern World Wide.

“Nyadien is responding well to the treatment. I am happy and grateful that she is recovering,” says her mother, Nyachot Diu. But aid workers say the overall situation is not improving.  

“The nutrition situation in the camps that are now home to the displaced people is increasingly alarming with little chance that this will improve in the short-term,” said Peter Gatluak, an assistant project officer with Concern World Wide, which is providing specialized malnutrition treatment.

Funding urgently needed before the situation unravels

Insufficient funding coupled with fighting along the main access routes has severely affected the delivery of aid. Since January, out-patient therapeutic feeding programmes reached some 228 locations; before the onset of the crisis, 336 locations could be reached.

1 in 2 South Sudanese
severely affected by Dec 2014

4 million
could face alarming food insecurity

1.5 million
become internally displaced

50,000 children
could die of malnutrition

In conflict-affected states such as Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity, the planting season has been disrupted, and people now only have one month left to plant their crops. In addition, in many areas, people are still recovering from the effects of the 2013 floods making them particularly susceptible to food insecurity and malnutrition.
“The first rains have arrived and the window for bringing in aid by road is almost shut. Expensive airlifts might be the only answer until the dry season returns,” noted Vincent Lelei, the head of the OCHA office in South Sudan. The rains will soon render 60 per cent of the country inaccessible by road.

If nothing is done, the situation could quickly unravel, bringing the number of displaced to 1.5 million. One out of two South Sudanese could be displaced, sick or starving by December 2014. To prevent this, humanitarian agencies need adequate funding fast.


[1] Figures accurate as of 15 May 2014.