Hunger and Malnutrition Reach 'Record Levels' in the World's Youngest Country
South Sudan is on the "brink of catastrophe" — and it's down to conflict.
South Sudan is experiencing record levels of hunger and malnutrition — with 1.8 million people now at risk, the country has one of the world’s worst levels of food security.
And a leading cause of the problem is, as with many of the world’s most pressing hunger crises, conflict.
Bintou Keita, the UN’s assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, told a meeting of the Security Council last Thursday that the continued conflict in the country is having a direct impact on the humanitarian situation.
To make matters worse, South Sudan is also experiencing the “lean season” that comes between harvest and the growth of new plants, meaning that food stocks are rapidly depleting.
According to the UN, an estimated 7.1 million people — more than half the population — rely on food provided by humanitarian aid.
“The conflict must end,” World Food Programme (WFP) Country Representative Adnan Khan told IRIN. “It’s one of the main causes of hunger in South Sudan today, forcing millions of people to abandon their land, homes, and jobs, putting them at risk of hunger. We need both peace and sustained [humanitarian] access to succeed.”
Now in its fifth year, the conflict in South Sudan has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people, and led to 4.4 million people having to flee their homes, according to the UN.
It became the world’s youngest country after it won its independence from Sudan in 2011, after a conflict that lasted for decades. But just two years later, in December 2013, fighting broke out again.
Hunger in South Sudan reflects a global trend, demonstrating the connection between conflict and food insecurity identified by humanitarian agencies. According to a report released by the WFP and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in January, conflict is a direct threat to the four “pillars of food stability” — availability, access, utilisation, and stability.
“If we want to reach zero hunger, ending conflict is a major step in reaching that goal,” said Francis Mwanza, head of the London office of WFP, which sees 80% of its expenditure going to conflict zones.
But while South Sudan is on the “brink of catastrophe,” according to Rwandan news site theNew Times, the start of direct meetings between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Rick Machar could be a positive sign.
On Wednesday last week, Kiir and Machar agreed to a “permanent” ceasefire, to stop fighting, open passage for humanitarian assistance, and release prisoners of war and detainees.
While a positive step, commentators warned that levels of distrust between the two would make a lasting peace difficult to achieve. Similar agreements have been reached before and several ceasefire agreements have been signed, according to theFinancial Times. But the agreements rarely last.
If those in charge aren’t able to establish a lasting peace within the country, according to aid workers, it will be extremely different to put an end to the rising hunger.