2.8 million in South Sudan face severe hunger as fighting continues

Women collect water in Lankien, South Sudan at a pump installed by Oxfam. Photo by Richard Elson/Oxfam

Despite a peace agreement, tens of thousands of people are still fleeing from their homes.

Nyamor Nwat’s small stock of millet is dwindling by the day. With 18 people to feed in her extended family in South Sudan, she expects her supply will last only until May. And then Nwat’s family, like countless others, will be forced to forage for whatever they can find until the next harvest comes in—if fighting subsides enough for people to plant and reap their crops.

Almost one quarter of the people in South Sudan are now facing severe hunger. A brutal war, which erupted in December 2013, is at the heart of their suffering. It has forced more than two million people from their homes—a number that is rising, making it impossible for them to tend to their fields or go to their jobs.

“Because of the conflict we fear for our lives,” says Nwat, who is 40 and now lives in a small farming village outside of Lankien in Jonglei State. “Maybe some people from outside will come and kill us, or some disease may kill us. Maybe even hunger.”

Though a peace agreement was signed in August 2015, it has yet to be fully implemented. Renewed fighting, especially in Unity State, and new fighting in the previously less affected Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal states, has sent tens of thousands more people fleeing for safety.

Aid, when it can get through, is making a difference in people’s lives, but delivering it has become more challenging because of the renewed violence in some areas and increasing restrictions on humanitarian agencies. To make matters worse, the prices are rocketing.  Between January and November last year, the cost of living in Juba, the capital, spiked by nearly 150 percent. And it continues to rise. With the country in crisis, the value of the South Sudanese Pound has plummeted. Many people, especially in urban areas where populations depend heavily on markets, can no longer afford to buy enough food, clean water, or other basics.

For children, the consequences of the fighting and price hikes are profound: more than 231,000 children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

And things are likely to get worse as the dry season continues, depriving the Nile and its tributaries of the water that fish and water lilies depend on. Both are the main—if not only—sources of food for families living in parts of the Greater Upper Nile region.

Food, clean water, sanitation

Since the start of the crisis more than two years ago, Oxfam has reached nearly 868,000 people with emergency food, clean water, sanitation services, and other assistance.

In Jonglei State, Oxfam has been drilling wells, building latrines, and promoting good public health practices. Clean water and good hygiene are essential to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, especially when people are living in crowded conditions or makeshift shelters.

Oxfam has also been distributing food—sorghum, beans, oil and salt—to families in the towns of Lankien and Akobo.

But as essential as this aid is, it’s only a stopgap: What’s needed immediately is an end to the fighting. Oxfam is urging all parties to the conflict to stop the violence. And we’re calling on regional governments and the international community to put pressure on the parties to bring the fighting to an end and implement the peace agreement before even more South Sudanese are made to suffer.

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