South Sudan’s Hunger Crisis

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South Sudan — The world’s newest country, South Sudan, is currently facing what the UN Security Council has deemed the worst food crisis in the world. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long civil war, however, since this victory, there has been little to celebrate. The country has struggled since it’s founding, and the statistics reveal a rough reality.

South Sudan’s hunger crisis impacts the country. The literacy rate stands at a mere 27 percent, and the infant mortality rate is currently 105 deaths per every 1,000 births. Only 17 percent of South Sudan’s children have been vaccinated, and disease runs rampant. Fifty-five percent of the population does not have access to a clean source of drinking water, and 80 percent do not have access to a toilet.

Living conditions in this region have never been ideal, but the situation worsened in December 2013, when civil war broke out. A political conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Rick Machar created a struggle between South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer. Kiir mobilized the Dinka while Machar aligned himself with the Nuer. The country has been ceaselessly plagued by violence since.

The current conflict has prevented farmers from planting and harvesting crops. People were unable to grow staple crops such as millet, maize and sorghum once the violence broke out, and workers were displaced from their land. There was little to show at harvest time. Food stores were quickly depleted, with no seeds prepared for the next growing season. Markets are nearly empty and traders cannot bring in food supplies from safer areas for fear of being harmed. What is available is incredibly expensive and typically unaffordable for displaced families.

Currently, 2 million citizens of South Sudan are displaced, and 2.5 million are at risk of starvation. In the areas hit worst by the conflict, such as Jonglei, Unity and the Upper Nile, 80 percent of the population is unable to grow crops during the agricultural season. More stable areas, such as Warrap and Lakes, have the potential to produce enough food to sustain much of the country, but a lack of infrastructure and technology prevents them from doing so.

In many areas of South Sudan, immediate, ongoing humanitarian aid is desperately needed. The UN has set up six camps to house those displaced, but with 130,000 people living in these camps, conditions are dire and space and resources are scarce. Recent flooding has worsened these issues. More stable regions need support for adequate food production. To assist with this, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has been distributing emergency livelihood kits. These kits, which contain seeds, tools, and other equipment, have been distributed to approximately 538,000 households.

The UN has estimated that $1.8 billion is needed to assist those in need in South Sudan, but only 29 percent of this target has been funded so far. More private contributions and international funding is crucial to help those displaced and starving. If conditions do not improve, the country could effectively run out of food, leading to widespread famine that would result in more deaths from starvation, malnutrition and disease.

Before the civil war, quality of life in South Sudan was slowly increasing. In 2005, the region saw improvements in meeting health and education goals. In 2013, resumed oil flow was expected to boost the economy and there was even a 20 percent increase in staple crop production. If peace is achieved, development can begin again. The world cannot give up on this young country and the resilient, innocent people who inhabit it.

Jane Harkness

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, FAO, Mercy Corps, The World Bank
Photo: The Bronx Papers

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