SOUTH SUDAN

Nearly eight million at risk of starvation in South Sudan

Children collect grain spilt on the field following a WFP food drop from a plane at a village in Ayod county, South Sudan.
Children collect grain spilt on the field following a WFP food drop from a plane at a village in Ayod county, South Sudan. AFP - TONY KARUMBA

Three United Nations agencies say up to eight million people in South Sudan could face severe food shortages between now and next year's harvests as a result of floods, drought and conflict.

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The Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN Children's Fund Unicef and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said Thursday the shortages between April and July may be worse than what the country suffered at the height of a civil war between 2013 and 2016.

The conflict ended in 2018, leaving a death toll of nearly 400,000 people.

"The decline in food security and high prevalence of malnutrition is linked to a combination of conflict, poor macroeconomic conditions, extreme climate events and spiralling costs of food and fuel," the agencies said in a joint statement.

"At the same time, there has been a decline in funding for humanitarian programmes despite the steady rise in humanitarian needs."

Spike in food prices

A surge in global food prices triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine – a major grain exporter – has left humanitarian agencies with less cash to spend.

In June, the WFP said it was forced to suspend some food aid to South Sudan just as it was facing its hungriest year since independence.

In August, the UN agencies estimated that 7.7 million people suffered severe food shortages in the country.

South Sudan erupted into civil war shortly after declaring independence from Sudan in 2011.

A peace agreement signed four years ago is largely holding but the transitional government has been unable to unify various military factions.

Facing starvation

"Urgent action is required ... we need to refocus our attention and redirect resources," Josephine Lagu, South Sudan's Minister of Agriculture and Food Security said.

"Hunger and malnutrition are on the rise across the flood, drought, and conflict-affected areas of South Sudan, with some communities likely to face starvation if humanitarian assistance is not sustained and climate adaptation measures are not scaled-up," said the UN agencies' report.

Makena Walker, acting country director for WFP in South Sudan, said: "We've been in famine prevention mode all year and have staved off the worst outcomes, but this is not enough.

"South Sudan is on the frontlines of the climate crisis and day in, day out families are losing their homes, cattle, fields and hope to extreme weather.

"Without humanitarian food assistance, millions more will find themselves in an increasingly dire situation and unable to provide even the most basic food for their families."

Last month, the UN's emergency response agency, OCHA, said around 909,000 people have reportedly been affected by flooding in South Sudan, as torrential rains ravage crops and destroy homes.

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