SEATTLE, Washington — South Sudan is a country with a long and difficult history. Its people have dealt with prolonged food insecurity, extended periods of conflict and recurring natural disasters. Currently, there is a rise in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to continued unrest and severe flooding. While South Sudan is in a dire situation, the government is working to provide emergency care to those most affected by the recent flooding.
History of South Sudan
In 1956, after more than 100 years of colonial rule by Britain and Egypt, Sudan achieved independence. However, the first civil war began in 1955 with the growth of a southern secessionist movement built on distrust of the north. The rebel factions (South Sudan Liberation Movement) and the Sudanese government signed a peace agreement in 1972. However, in 1980 the government attempted to claim the oil resources of the South for the northern territory.
In 1983, the peace agreement was terminated and, shortly after, a second civil war between the government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army began. Food insecurity in Sudan escalated in 2001 as famine impacted around 3 million civilians. In 2005, a peace agreement promised the South an opportunity to vote on autonomy. The first national elections in more than 20 years were held in 2010. The following year, after several decades of conflict, the Republic of South Sudan split from the rest of Sudan.
Political conflict, mainly divided along ethnic lines, led to a civil war in South Sudan in 2013, resulting in the displacement of millions of people. In December of that year, the U.N. sent several thousand troops into the country for the purpose of “nation-building,” but their focus soon shifted to protecting civilians. In February 2020, the South Sudan president and the opposition leader agreed to establish a coalition government.
Food Insecurity in South Sudan
Food insecurity in South Sudan worsened in 2017 and the country experienced famine once again. Extended droughts and pest infestations ruined crop production. Floods severely delayed the planting season and killed hundreds of cattle. Ongoing conflict and instability in the country restricted access to food and forced many families to flee.
In February 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. predicted that by May 2020, 6.5 million people, more than half the country’s population, would be severely food insecure. An assessment done in March 2020 approximated that around 1.3 million children in South Sudan were acutely malnourished. The study also indicated that acute malnourishment would rise, especially in the areas most impacted by flooding.
Floods, Violence and COVID-19
In August 2020, severe flooding in the Jonglei and Eastern Nile States resulted from the overflowing of the White Nile, while the Akobo River similarly affected the country’s border with Ethiopia. Pictures of the affected regions show homes destroyed, crops flooded and cars sinking into the water. This disrupted the planting season and prevented humanitarian agencies from accessing the affected regions due to limited access to roadways.
On top of the flooding, Al Jazeera reported rising violence in South Sudan, moving beyond intercommunal conflict. The government’s disarming of civilians has caused clashes between armed civilians and soldiers. This violence has presented another barrier for humanitarian agencies to help relieve food insecurity in South Sudan. Aid workers have been kidnapped and attacked and many organizations have difficultly reaching certain regions due to the opposition of armed groups.
COVID-19 represents a unique threat to South Sudan because of its unstable healthcare system, lack of generally accessible information and limited resources to fight the pandemic. Additionally, the general health of the country’s population is at risk from the disruptions COVID-19 has caused in vaccine distribution, maternal health services and medical care for treatable diseases like malaria and pneumonia.
The Government’s Emergency Response
South Sudan’s Flood Task Force organized by the country’s Humanitarian Aid Commission is working to provide emergency aid to families affected by the flooding. Several helicopters carrying medicine, hygiene materials, mosquito nets and water purification devices have been able to access these regions. To aid those experiencing food insecurity in South Sudan, the HAC distributed items such as rice, lentils, sugar and cooking oil to 75 families whose homes were leveled in the Nile floods. Widespread food distribution is still being coordinated, but more than 300 families were able to get temporary shelters. The government is continuing to assess the situation to determine need, working with local authorities to provide emergency assistance to citizens in need.
South Sudan is a country that is deeply in crisis. Its citizens are at great risk for food insecurity due to violence, floods and other problems exacerbated by COVID-19. Unfortunately, because of the wide variety of causes of food insecurity in South Sudan, there is no immediate solution. In the meantime, the HAC will focus its efforts on providing emergency care to civilians. It will continue to work with the government to provide immediate aid in hopes of establishing long-term peace and security in South Sudan.
– Ann Marie Vanderveen