Crisis and Causes Part 1 – South Sudan

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, marked its sixth birthday on the 9th of July this year; but not with celebrations. The country was only recently taken off the famine list, and is now said to be experiencing just a “severe food crisis”. The last famine to be declared in Africa prior to this was in Somalia (2011), where harsh weather conditions induced by climate change led to one of the worst droughts in 60 years. In South Sudan however, conflict is blamed for this nutrition emergency. Conflict has contributed to the overall economic collapse of the country; with inflation reaching a record 836% – the highest in the world.

In order for a famine to be declared, the food situation needs to get from bad to worse to catastrophic.

Before you can even use the word “famine”, at least 20% of households in an area must face extreme hunger; over 30% of people must be visibly wasted; and the mortality rate must be above two people per day per 10,000 people.

So by the time a famine is declared, many people would have already died from starvation. Only when it gets to this stage does the world get to hear about it; and even then, the UN or any of their member states are under no binding obligation to take action. For the agencies that do mobilise and respond, arriving at this late stage makes it extremely difficult to entertain any type of prevention or early recovery strategies.

Politically-motivated fighting in South Sudan between the People’s Liberation Army and the Liberation Army have escalated since 2013.

These two groups, despite the lack of creativity in choosing names, have managed to wreak considerable havoc: destroying crops, property and entire livelihoods; resulting in the largest refugee crisis on the African continent.

The fighting itself is not new. Civil war in Sudan has been raging for 42 of the 60 years of its independence. The conflict continued even after the formation of the new country South Sudan in 2011.

Ongoing conflict can erode the very fabric of a society. Citizens are unable to access basic services such as food, water and sanitation; placing them at risk of death from hunger and diseases. The UN has officially declared South Sudan as the largest humanitarian disaster it has seen since it was founded in 1945. Estimates place the number of people killed since the new wave of fighting at 20,000; with a further 3.5 million displaced either within Sudan or in neighbouring countries. According to the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF, well over 40% of the South Sudanese population, anywhere between 4.9 and 5.5 million people, are in desperate need of food aid. Given the current situation, providing support to these people may be little short of a logistic nightmare.

The region itself was already experiencing drought conditions; so the conflict has essentially exacerbated existing problems. Displacement led to a total disruption of the agricultural system, causing the price of food to sky-rocket. Supply routes for much needed aid were also blocked, and agencies were not able to access vulnerable populations. Aid workers have also been attacked, making it difficult to recruit more staff. Let’s face it, Sudan is not the most popular region. It took a massive A-list celebrity endorsement to draw attention to the first round of fighting in the early 2000s. Current aid appeals only managed to reach 0.9% of its target. Thus its safe to infer that the public is either unaware, uninterested or uncertain of the usefulness of financial aid.

Neighbouring countries such as Uganda are also feeling the effects of this conflict. More than 2000 Sudanese refugees cross over into Uganda every day. A total of 500,000 crossed in 2016; higher than the amount crossing the Mediterranean to get into Europe. Uganda maintains an open door policy to refugees. Still, providing food aid for “the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis” can cost nearly US$1.4bn just up to the end of 2017, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This target is unlikely to be achieved, especially given that the United States, the UN’s largest donor, has reduced its funding under the Trump administration. The US also has both South Sudan and Yemen (the other country where a famine was declared) included in the list of countries on the recently implemented travel ban.

With the approach of the rainy season, agencies like Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are making attempts to provide seeds and other inputs to get agricultural production off the ground. However, the food crisis has been so severe that many farmers are reported to be eating the seeds out of necessity.

Here are a list of agencies currently working in South Sudan

  1. UNICEF

  2. Save the Children

  3. World Vision

  4. Water for South Sudan

  5. Sudan Relief Fund

  6. Oxfam

  7. Action Against Hunger

  8. CARE

  9. International Medical Corps 

  10. Norwegian Refugee Council

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