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Students line-up for assembly at primary school in the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu, South Sudan, May 1, 2017. As of May 2017, the United Nations’ PoC site in Bentiu is home to more than 120,000 internally displaced South Sudanese.
© Phil Hatcher-Moore/UNICEF
Food & Hunger

Hunger and Malnutrition Reach 'Record Levels' in the World's Youngest Country

Why Global Citizens Should Care 
Hunger is a leading cause of death around the world, and one of the leading causes of hunger is conflict. Without peace in South Sudan, the hunger crisis will continue to escalate among poor communities, and more lives will be lost. You can join us by taking action on this issue and the rest of the Global Goals here.

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. 

Take action: Millions Are at Risk of Starvation. Ask World Leaders to Act Now to Stop and Prevent Famine

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.” 

Read more: 8 Countries Are Now Battling 'Crisis Level' Hunger

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.  

Read more: Famine Is Making South Sudan the 'Fastest Growing Refugee Crisis'

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. 

Machar described the ceasefire as “the start of a new phase in the lives of our people,” while Kiir pledged that he wouldn’t let the people of South Sudan down.

Read more: Uganda 'Desperately' Needs Humanitarian Aid as South Sudan Refugees Flood In, UN Says

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. 

Within just a few hours of the ceasefire coming into effect on Saturday, it was reportedly violated, with reports of violent clashes across the country, according to the Daily Monitor and IRIN

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.