Years of conflict puts South Sudan on the brink of famine

Nyabiel, 30, is a tea shop trader in Wiechjol Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

Months after marking four years of devastating war, South Sudan has reached another critical point: more South Sudanese are hungry than ever before.

While famine was not declared in the latest IPC food security report released last week, the food crisis is worse than ever, with more than 6.3 million people struggling to get enough to eat. 1.3 million more people are facing severe food insecurity than when famine was declared this time last year. It is clear that years of conflict are fueling this hunger crisis, and the international community must find a way to negotiate peace.

A surge in humanitarian aid last year meant that famine was pushed back by the middle of 2017. Still, nearly half the population remained severely food insecure by December—even at the time of year when food is supposed to be most plentiful. Now, a few months later, the situation has deteriorated significantly. South Sudan’s agricultural production has plummeted as the result of relentless fighting, and many cannot even manage to grow enough to feed themselves, let alone to sell or trade for other essentials. Conflict is driving the economy into the ground, which is in turn driving hunger.

Water and sanitation are crucial to tackling the crisis in South Sudan - unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene can be deadly when paired with hunger. They can cause diarrhea, cholera, and other diseases, which quickly cause dehydration and prevent already unhealthy people from absorbing nutrients from the little food they do eat. And in a vicious cycle, malnutrition then weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to disease.

Women’s voices critical

Women and girls are especially vulnerable in this hunger crisis. Women are expected to care for their families above all else, and they often risk their own safety, spending full days finding food and clean water, and sacrificing their own portions when necessary.

Women’s voices  are critical to help end this crisis. The Government of South Sudan should urgently take steps to promote the participation and representation of women in decision-making bodies at national, state and local levels. Oxfam believes donors and others can support this by ensuring that assistance addresses the disproportionate effects of food insecurity on women and girls, including in education, work opportunities, health, protection, governance and water, sanitation, and hygiene programming.

Humanitarian access

Humanitarian actors must have unrestricted access to turn the tide against rising hunger. On-the-ground access is critical for aid to reach those most in need, the overall efforts to end the conflict and open access requires diplomatic action in capitals around the world. While the international community has not caused the current crisis, it has not consistently responded with the urgency and decisive action required. Oxfam calls on the international community to reinvigorate and redouble diplomatic action to incentivize peace and effectively hold warring parties accountable for violations of the ceasefire, human rights, and international humanitarian law.

If humanitarian needs are not met, and peace remains elusive, South Sudan is at real risk of an even graver humanitarian crisis by this time next year. Investing more effectively in humanitarian needs before crisis hits builds the resilience of communities and lessens the impact of emergencies. We must continue urgent efforts to end the conflict, reach the most vulnerable with life-saving assistance and support to rebuild. Aid can keep people alive. But only peace can give them their futures.

To learn more, read Oxfam’s report, “Hungry for Peace: Exploring the links between hunger and conflict in South Sudan

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