‘Man-made’ famine declared in parts of South Sudan

Mary Ajak Maluk and her family fled the fighting near their home in South Sudan. Along with many others, they sought shelter around the town of Mingkamen. Photo: Mackenzie Knowles Coursin/Oxfam

100,000 South Sudanese are facing starvation, marking the first famine to be declared in the world in over six years.

Today, the United Nations and South Sudan’s government declared a famine in northern-central parts of South Sudan, reporting some 100,000 people facing starvation, with millions more in urgent need of assistance.

The tragedy is completely man-made, and will only continue to get worse if urgent action isn’t taken. In over 30 years working in the affected areas, Oxfam has never witnessed such dire need for food assistance. As conflict continued unabated, vulnerable people cut off from life-saving assistance are paying the ultimate price. People have been pushed to the brink, surviving on what they can find to eat in swamps. As is so often the case, women and children are worst affected by the crisis. 

South Sudan’s crisis was not inevitable: a political dispute in 2013 quickly morphed into an all-out conflict that has led to the death of thousands of women, children, and men and displaced more than 3 million people. Despite the signing of a US-backed peace agreement in August 2015, fighting has continued and actually intensified in many parts of South Sudan.

Now, the combination of displacement, lack of humanitarian access, and collapsed markets has left millions without enough food to eat. According to the official body responsible for tracking food insecurity, 4.9 million people—more than 40 percent of South Sudan's population—are in need of urgent food, agriculture, and nutrition assistance. This number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million people by summer unless an end to the fighting takes place so assistance and relief can get to those who urgently need it the most. The US has a key role to play.

In 2011 after the famine hit Somalia, the world said “never again.” The declaration of famine in South Sudan reflects the collective failure to heed the countless warnings of an ever-worsening situation.

While this famine has been a long time in the making, addressing urgent need and resolving the root causes is a vital early test of the new Trump administration. South Sudan has long been a bipartisan priority, including the Bush administration's support for peace in 2005 and the Obama administration's efforts to steer the country to independence in 2011. President Trump must continue this legacy, with both robust humanitarian funding to save lives and strong political leadership to end conflict.

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