Famine declared in South Sudan

Unicef estimates more than 40% of South Sudan’s population are in need of urgent food

Famine declared in South Sudan

Image: Unicef

Approximately 100,000 people are facing starvation in parts of South Sudan after famine was declared today.

Three UN agencies are warning that a further 1 million people are classified as being on the brink of famine. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) also warned that urgent action is needed to prevent more people from dying of hunger.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released today 4.9 million people – more than 40% of South Sudan’s population – are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.

The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis. 

Across the country, three years of conflict have severely undermined crop production and rural livelihoods. The upsurge in violence since July 2016 has further devastated food production, including in previously stable areas. 

Unicef cites soaring inflation – up to 800% year-on-year – and market failure as having hit areas that traditionally rely on markets to meet food needs. Urban populations are also struggling to cope with massive price rises on basic food items.

"This famine is man-made"

"Famine has become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan and our worst fears have been realised. Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive," said FAO.

Representative in South Sudan Serge Tissot said: "The people are predominantly farmers and war has disrupted agriculture. They’ve lost their livestock, even their farming tools.

The IPC report also estimates that 14 of the 23 assessed counties have global acute malnutrition (GAM) at or above the emergency threshold of 15%, with some areas as high as 42% 

"More than one million children are currently estimated to be acutely malnourished across South Sudan; over a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished. If we do not reach these children with urgent aid many of them will die," said Jeremy Hopkins, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan.

“We urge all parties to allow humanitarian organizations unrestricted access to the affected populations, so we can assist the most vulnerable and prevent yet another humanitarian catastrophe.”

“This famine is man-made," said WFP Country Director Joyce Luma. "WFP and the entire humanitarian community have been trying with all our might to avoid this catastrophe, mounting a humanitarian response of a scale that quite frankly would have seemed impossible three years ago.

"But we have also warned that there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve."

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken also described it as a 'man-made tragedy'.

He said: “In over 30 years working in the affected areas, Oxfam has never witnessed such dire need. Vulnerable people, out of reach of life-saving assistance due to the conflict, are paying the ultimate price. People have been pushed to the brink of surviving on what they can find to eat in swamps.

"As so often in a crisis, women and children being the worst affected. We need an end to the fighting so that we can get food to those that urgently need it and provide them with support to rebuild their shattered lives."

Sean Farrell - Director of Trócaire’s International Division, and who visited South Sudan last week - explained: "The hungry season is normally June and July when food stocks have been depleted and the new harvest is yet to come. But in February hunger was already evident.

"It is going to be a long and hard six months until any harvest brings relief. If these people are to survive, food aid and vital life-saving support will be necessary," he added.

He said that he is deeply concerned about the families he has left behind in the war ravaged country.