Millions go hungry: The cruel cost of war in South Sudan

By Oxfam
Martha Nyandit waited last year at a food distribution point in South Sudan. She fled her home with her children after fighting broke out. Photo by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

As this new nation totters under the weight of endless conflict, millions of its once-hopeful citizens face sky-rocketing food prices and hunger.

There is no more horrible truth about the unrelenting war in South Sudan than this: It has forced  hunger—often severe—on  millions of this new nation’s people.

A new analysis released today signals a deteriorating food situation that is expected to leave 40 percent of the country—or 4.6 million people—in the grip of severe hunger by the end of July.

“South Sudan is spiraling into an economic free fall and people are struggling with skyrocketing food prices and an ever-rising cost of living,” said Zlatko Gegic, Oxfam’s South Sudan country director. “The only way to address the economic crisis is to end the war, ensure long lasting peace, and start to rebuild the economy.”

People are skipping meals and selling whatever assets they have to buy food. Families in the regions consumed by conflict are facing the deepest challenges. While the markets in the three conflict-affected states of the Greater Upper Nile region are greatly constrained, high food prices are hitting communities hard across the country. In Juba, the capital, the price of grains, grown locally and imported, has skyrocketed up to 100 percent above normal for this time of year. The prices of sugar and vegetable oil have also exploded.

“When there’s no food I ask for a loan or I beg from my neighbors who have fewer children and so might have some of their ration left over,” said Martha Nyandit, who fled with her children from their home last year and waited in an informal camp for a food distribution. “Sometimes I feel so weak I worry I will not have enough milk for the baby. Sometimes I’m so weak I feel like I’m going to collapse. I can’t see when I stand up.”

With inflation on the rise, most families are now spending more than 80 percent of their household income on food, leaving just a fraction for other essentials such as health care and education.

Though humanitarian assistance has helped to ease some of the suffering, the coming rains and continued conflict will make it harder for people to get the help they need.

A man-made crisis

The key to ending this man-made crisis is to stop the fighting that has caused it.

Internal tensions within the ruling party erupted into conflict in December 2013, with fighting quickly spreading across South Sudan. . The war has left tens of thousands of people dead and forced more than two million others from their homes.

Since late 2014, all armed parties, especially in the Greater Upper Nile region, have increased recruitment, sometimes by force. Particularly vulnerable are children. An estimated 12,000 boys and girlshave now been pulled into the conflict through a variety of tactics that include both coercion and abduction. Some join simply to get food.

“The people of South Sudan desperately need an immediate end to this war so they can get food and other life-saving assistance,” said Gegic. “We strongly appeal to all parties to the conflict to allow people to safely reach humanitarian assistance.”

Oxfam is now helping more than 480,000 people with a range of support including providing clean water, sanitation services, food, fuel, and income support. We have also helped more than 100,000 South Sudanese refugees who have fled to Ethiopia and another 145,000 who have sought safety in Uganda.

Oxfam is calling on the government of South Sudan, members of the opposition, and other armed actors to end the violence immediately. We know that a lasting peace will require far more than a power sharing deal among political and military elites. Regional leaders and the international community need to engage more strongly to re-establish a political dialogue that is inclusive of the diverse communities of South Sudan, in order to end the conflict and secure a permanent ceasefire.

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