What is happening in South Sudan?
The world hasn’t seen a famine in almost 6 years since Somalia. That’s now changed. The United Nations just officially confirmed famines in two regions of South Sudan. South Sudan also happens to be the world’s youngest nation. The United Nations is also warning of possible famines in parts of Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 4.9 million people, or 40% of South Sudan’s population, will be severely affected over the coming months, and possibly another 15 million people more across the region if the famine worsens.
Famine in South Sudan is a result of the country’s ongoing internal conflict. Civil war and insecurity in the county have led to a deteriorating economy and made planting and harvesting nearly impossible. South Sudan was once considered the bread basket of East Africa is now experiencing a food shortage severe enough that individuals are dying from starvation.
“Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive,” says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization representative in South Sudan, Serge Tissot.
The main cause of the famine is conflict and therefore is man-made. The majority of people work predominantly in agriculture and war has disrupted it, along with displacing almost 3 million people over the last three years. As crop production has fallen to all time lows, livestock has died or been killed, and inflation has soared. This perfect storm of low supply and high demand has caused an economic meltdown and priced food out of the reach of everyday people.
To make things worse, just days after the president of South Sudan promised “unimpeded access” to humanitarian aid organizations working there, it raised its NGO visa fee from $100 USD to $10,000 USD. The government claims it’s trying to increase revenue in order to sustain itself, but many NGOs working in the country are seeing this as a “bureaucratic impediment” and tantamount to extortion during a crisis such as this. At this time, it’s unclear if the increased fee will stick. Tensions with NGOs run high as 13 Samaritan’s Purse South Sudanese national staff were detained by local militants in the Mayendit area of South Sudan. All were promptly released, however, Samaritan’s Purse has recently removed most area staff and temporarily halted food distributions.
Does conflict affect food security?
In short, yes. Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia are all places where fighting has disrupted agriculture and caused economic conditions which don’t allow for proper allocation of food to a wide enough portion of the population.
Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been experiencing civil conflict between Shias and Sunnis. This conflict has drawn in regional powers, causing widespread destruction, economic instability, and loss of life. Nigeria and Somalia have faced insurgencies by Islamist groups Boko Haram and al-Shabab, leading to the displacement of people, disruption of the economy, and the collapse of local market activities.
What can be done in South Sudan?
In the short term, three things can be done to halt the conditions that are causing the famine to worsen. Easier access for NGOs, larger humanitarian assistance, and at least a temporary halting of conflict.
Raising the NGO visa fee from $100 to $10,000 will only hurt South Sudan and cause people to suffer because the increased fee simply isn’t do-able for most organizations. Even the most well funded organizations will have to choose between feeding kits or bringing in aid workers.
Expanded humanitarian assistance programs are necessary and are being planned by UN agencies. They’re attempting to distribute millions of emergency livelihood kits which help people fish or grow vegetables. However, funding is still limited.
Even if funding is adequate, distribution is still mostly limited to regions outside of conflict zones. It just so happens that areas experiencing a famine are regions that are sympathetic to rebels. UN officials have suggested that President Kiir’s government has been blocking food aid to these areas, further worsening the crisis. Although a permanent halt to the conflict will allow for wider distribution of food aid and will save thousands of lives, it’s unlikely that that will occur.