Severe hunger ravages South Sudan

Women receive bags of Sorghum following a food drop from a World Food Programme plane. Oxfam distributed Sorghum and Lentils to 4000 hungry people near Lankien in Jonglai state aiming to reach a total of 22,000 beneficiaries, many of whom have been unable to plant seeds due to displacement from the war. The food is seen in white bags in the background. Photo: Nick Lacey/Oxfam

Nearly two years of war have helped to trigger widespread hunger that is now affecting a third of the population.

A new food security analysis details the severe hunger 3.9 million people in South Sudan are now enduring—80 percent more than a year ago. Called the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, the analysis cites conflict, record-high food prices, and localized crop failures as causes of the widespread problem, which is now affecting 34 percent of the population. The situation is particularly acute for 30,000 people in Unity State, says the analysis.

“We hold grave concerns for the estimated 30,000 people experiencing extreme and dangerous hunger levels in war-ravaged Unity State, where, despite the peace deal, fighting continues to cut people off from aid,” said Zlatko Gegic, Oxfam’s South Sudan country director. That number is expected to climb 10,000 more by December, he added.

“Oxfam is working with communities in Southern Unity where we have seen appalling conditions first hand,” Gegic said. “We hear heartbreaking stories of civilians being caught up in a vicious cycle—fleeing their homes and making the treacherous journey to safer locations only to be faced with starvation as aid organizations are blocked due to fighting. Many children have arrived alone, their mothers killed in the fighting or during the journey, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, surviving on plant roots and whatever else they can forage.”

A water distribution point - set up by Oxfam - at the Malakal IDP camp, South Sudan. Fighting has forced more than a million people from their homes, and up to 50,000 children are at risk of dying from malnutrition if they don't receive adequate humanitarian aid. Photo: Simon Rawles

Aid groups face deep challenges in the country: the UN appeal for 2015 is only 55 percent funded.

“Donors must urgently release funding for emergency food aid to save lives and help avert a devastating crisis,” Gegic said. “After almost two years of fighting, the long-term affects of this war have ravaged communities across the country. Donors should fund programs that help people rebuild their lives, such as agricultural and fishing support, rehabilitating markets, and developing other livelihoods.”

But as important is bringing an end to the conflict, which erupted in the capital in December 2013 and quickly grew into a national, political, and ethnic crisis. Since then, more than 1.5 million people have been internally displaced while more than 500,000 have fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.

“This unbearable suffering will only end if the peace agreement holds, fighting stops immediately, and the long process of reconciliation begins,” said Gegic.

Oxfam, which has been providing hundreds of thousands of people with a range of emergency help including clean water, sanitation facilities, food, fuel, and income support, is calling on the warring parties to respect the ceasefire so people can reach the help they desperately need.

“The international community must continue to apply all diplomatic measures that will support the delivery of real, lasting peace,” Gegic said.

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