JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan is the world’s newest country, and its short history is one of extreme violence and insecurity. A conflict that sparked late last year is tearing the country apart and has yet to be resolved.
The dismissal of deputy Rieck Machar by President Salva Kiir in December 2013 erupted in an ethnically-based conflict between their rivaling tribes. Two ceasefires issued this year have been breached, leading to increased violence that continues to spread.
Ongoing clashes between rebels and the government are severely affecting the people of South Sudan and conditions are quickly reaching a tipping point. One of the most pressing issues is that reliable food supplies are running low.
In South Sudan, 3.5 million citizens are already experiencing critical food insecurity, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. Political instability has left crops unplanted while cattle have been abandoned. The United Nations is warning that by the end of the year, 6 million people in the East African country will be displaced, starving or dead if the current state of affairs continues.
“The food security crisis in South Sudan is now worsening and spreading westward to areas previously less affected,” urged Dan Gustafon, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation’s Deputy Director-General for Operations at a pledging conference.
The conference was co-hosted by Norway and the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Oslo, Norway this May. Toby Lanzer, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator, was present at the event which aimed at galvanizing international aid. Lanzer warned that famine in South Sudan could become the worst food crisis in Africa since the 1980s if the necessary funds aren’t raised.
Donors from 41 countries met at the conference and pledged $600 million toward the efforts to avert extreme famine in South Sudan. This is added to the $536 million already pledged, but the sum still falls short of the estimated $1.8 billion needed.
Rapid international involvement seems promising, but the issue goes beyond simply raising money and sending aid. The displaced South Sudanese need stability to return to their homes, especially the farmers required to sustain food supply.
“This trend is set to continue unless farmers can plant their fields, and herders can access their traditional grazing areas,” explained Gustafon.
Efforts haven’t overlooked the necessity of protecting sustainable food supplies, which is the key to preventing long-term famine in South Sudan. The FAO has been working amid challenges brought by the conflict and seasonal flooding to help the most impacted areas. In order to protect food supplies, the FAO is distributing fishing, animal health, vegetable and crop emergency livelihood kits.
The food calamity in South Sudan is a children’s health crisis as well. Adam Berthoud of Save the Children Australia says there has been a spike in malnourished children entering clinics. According to the U.N., up to 50,000 children could die from malnutrition alone.
Financial negotiations are taking place in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, as the international community continues its efforts to alleviate the issue before it’s too late.