Since early 2017, South Sudan has been under severe famine. A large part of the country is suffering food shortage, as a result of war and drought. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warned that about 5.5 million people, half of South Sudan’s population, are expected to suffer food shortages and insecurity by July 2017. According to Jeremy Hopkins, the South Sudan representative for the UN children’s agency, more than 200,000 children are at risk of death from malnutrition in the country.
The UNHCR reports that 90 percent of the refugees fleeing South Sudan are women and children. The report states that, “The majority of the refugees are being hosted by Uganda, where a total of some 698,000 have now arrived. In less than six months, Uganda has more than tripled its population of South Sudanese refugees, hosting the largest share of the people who have fled their homes in the neighbouring country. Ethiopia is also hosting some 342,000, while more than 305,000 others are in Sudan and some 89,000 in Kenya, 68,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 4,900 in the Central African Republic.”
Thousands of Sudanese families are facing serious food shortage. Most families are eating once in a day. Because families cannot grow crops, they are eating wild honey and water lily roots. Also, families occasionally fish while waiting for food aid. However, catching fish is not easy for them since they do not have access to fishing tools. The reasons for this situation are war and drought. There are two reasons that caused current situation: war and drought. But human action is still primarily to blame.
Aid groups have largely slammed South Sudan’s food crisis as “man-made” caused by years of civil war and bloodshed. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. In December 2013, civil war broke out after President Salva Kiir accused Vice President Riek Machar of plotting a coup. Kiir is a member of the Dinka tribe, the country’s largest ethnic group, while Machar comes from the Nuer, the second-largest tribe.
Recently, the UN declared that parts of South Sudan are experiencing a famine. According to the UN, three conditions need to met in order for a famine to be declared: at least 20 percent of a population is facing extreme food shortages, 30 per cent of people are experiencing acute malnutrition, and more than two people per 10,000 die every day. Up to 5.3 million people in South Sudan are at risk of suffering from starvation. Also, more than half of South Sudanese children are out of school, the highest proportion in the world. The UNHCR has estimated that about 32,000 South Sudanese have fled into neighbouring Sudan since the start of the year in order to flee the famine.
As UNICEF and other aid groups are reporting, the cause of the famine is not environmental but political. In others words, the disaster is largely man-made. The country’s fertile land has the potential to produce plenty of food for its people, but the land is now utterly unproductive because of the endless ethnic fighting, and the country relies on food imports from its neighbours, like Uganda. To make matters worse, South Sudan is also suffering from drought, since rain has been erratic.
Subsequent in-country fighting along ethnic lines has left thousands dead and seen some three million people displaced. Kiir and Machar signed a peace agreement in August 2015 aimed at ending the conflict, though sporadic fighting continues.
“The government will ensure that all humanitarian and development organizations have unimpeded access to needy populations across the Country,” President Kiir said. “The government is aware of the failure of crops last year in the region and so steps are being taken to mitigate a potential famine.”
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Deputy Executive Director and UN Assistant Secretary General Justin Forsyth, “Nobody should be dying of starvation in 2017. There is enough food in the world, we have enough capability in terms of the humanitarian community. In South Sudan, UNICEF has 620 feeding centers for severely malnourished children, so the places where children are dying are places we can’t get to, or get to only occasionally. If there was access, we could save all of these children’s lives.” The brutal violence has also prevented humanitarian agencies from supplying food to those in desperate need.
Most famines throughout history have been caused by natural environmental difficulties. Others are caused by political mismanagement often occurring under a totalitarian government misallocating food. For example, the famine broke out in China during the Great Leap Forward period. However, it is hard for us to imagine that in this modern world, there are still states overtaken by food scarcity. South Sudanese are struggling due to internal chaos caused by civil war.
There are numerous ways to end famine, but the first step is to promote peace. Some say the Sudanese government should take the main responsibility for this famine. However, now is not the time for blaming others. Cooperation among states and organizations is needed to save lives at this moment. International communities and organizations are more than willing to aid South Sudan, however, they have no choice but to walk away unless the country achieves a peaceful environment.
After a ceasefire is reached, human rights assistance will have access to South Sudan territory. With this access, they will be able to send enough food, water, and nutrition. This assistance is urgently needed for South Sudanese who are struggling to survive now. Due to civil war and drought, many crops are unable to harvest, so the short-term solution for famine depends on external assistance from other states and NGOs. Water and food supplies will sustain population during severe famine. However, in the long-term, fundraising is definitely necessary rather than food.
Still, the process of growing crops can be started at the same time. Connecting farmers to markets will directly reduce poverty and boost the country’s economy. This will provide steady income to families so that they are able to purchase their own food. In order to help farmers grow crops, neighbouring countries and organizations need to provide support such as financial investments and agricultural technical supports.
Famine can be defined as a severe scarcity of food. This is the current state in South Sudan. Famine is normally caused by crop failure and population imbalance, but the reason for the famine in South Sudan is war. Africa remains the most affected by food scarcity in the world. Food supplies are not timely due to the fact that there is limited access to South Sudan. As a result, families and children in the country are currently helpless. We all want this country to be better, but the prerequisite is peace. Therefore, the Sudanese government must follow through with the peace treaty signed in 2015 to put human life at the top of the state’s priority.
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