Famine in South Sudan
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Threat To Famine In South Sudan

Photo by Abbie Taylor-Smith

Continuous conflicts and climate shocks have left the world’s youngest country as the hungriest and famine seems inevitable.

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“Hundreds of thousands of children are going to sleep hungry every night while their parents are worried sick about how to feed them. A war halfway around the world makes their prospects even worse. This allocation will save lives,” said Martin Griffiths, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator

UN humanitarians have warned that South Sudan can face famine in the coming days and requested that urgent action is required by the world community to scale up the aid and actions to address hunger and malnutrition in South Sudan.

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According to the recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, more than 62% of the population is going to face severe food shortages during the coming lean season between April and July of 2022.

The World Food Programme (WFP),

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have all made an appeal to make humanitarian aid to the worst affected areas of South Sudan to save people from the worst hunger deaths and complete livelihood loss.

FAO chart showing Population without access to healthy food in different regions of the world.

Reasons for Famine in South Sudan

Harsh Climatic Episodes

The country has been facing severe flooding for the last three consecutive years which has increased food insecurity. FAO has advocated for more climate-resilient farming and producing more food to eradicate hunger.  

Recurring flooding has destroyed the crops and the ability of farmers to produce food. As a result, imports have increased with food insecurity and rising prices.

An overview of 2017 flood in South Sudan.
An overview of the 2017 floods in South Sudan due to which around 200,000 people had to leave their homes and agricultural lands.
(Photo: Kirk Prichard / Concern Worldwide)


Hunger became both a cause and consequence of the conflicts and communal violence in South Sudan. Agricultural productivity has decreased due to conflicts. As a result cases of poaching and cattle theft increased in the area. This again resulted in tensions and conflicts. The negative environment of clashes also hinders the work of humanitarian groups. Their work remains interrupted for a long period of time.

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Even people could not reach the help centre to collect humanitarian aid due to fear of violence and insecurity.

The civil war that started in 2013 and ended in 2020 also pushed around two million people to leave their places and become internally displaced and around 2.4 million people to become refugees. It led to widespread deaths and the destruction of properties. People lost their livelihood, lands and livestock.

Russia-Ukraine Crisis

The Russia-Ukraine war is even making the famine situation worse. Food and fuel prices have soared high due to trade restrictions on Russia and transport line disruptions. 

Countries of East Africa including South Sudan import around 90% of their food grains from Russia and Ukraine. Hence, the Russian crisis has hit the hardest food insecurity in poor nations of East Africa.

Further, humanitarian aid can be diverted to Europe where the UN estimates that about 12 million people in Ukraine need assistance. As a result, less budget will be left for aid in South Sudan despite the catastrophic situation worsened with inflation.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says “a hurricane of famine” might witness in South Sudan.

Nature of Livelihood and Dependency on Agriculture

Almost 87% of the population depends on agriculture and its cattle stock for its livelihood that creating competition for these scarce resources of agriculture and livestock. Grazing land and water are limited and often a reason for conflicts. Around 90% of agricultural lands are disputed and make up the huge civil cases. Consequently, there is less produce and harvests on these lands which make the farmers unable to produce enough food to remove hunger.

Destruction of farmlands and livestock and resultant displacement have accelerated the hunger crisis in the area.

Economic Degradation

Inflation has reached approximately 260% where the currency has fallen tremendously and prices of bread have increased more than ten times. Taxes are increasing as the international funds are suspended. The prices of food, fuel, and electricity are crashing. As a result living standards have fallen throughout the country.

Possible Catastrophic Outcomes 

Children are the worst affected by famine situations. It is expected by the IPC report that around 1.34 million children under the age of five years can be affected by acute hunger and malnutrition in 2022 as per the SMART nutrition surveys, the Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring System (FSNMS) survey and other trends.

Even more than 600,000 pregnant and lactating mothers are severely malnourished and need attention, cited the IPC report.

Lack of feedings, dietary supplements and diversity and prevalence of diseases like diarrhoea has resulted in the worst form of malnutrition amongst infants and children.

David Wright of Save the Children fears that  Families with such apathy may resort to bad coping strategies, marrying their girls off early, and dropping out of children from school.

U.N. analysis of the food situation in South Sudan points out that many people may die due to starvation. 

Required Aid and Attention by the World Community

FAO has been working to provide skills, tools, seeds, fishing kits and other materials to help farmers adopt sustainably and climate-resilient farming in view of recurrent flooding and drought episodes across South Sudan. FAO asked for more investment in farming to help farmers and their families to have enough food and livelihood to remove hunger and malnutrition.

The IPC report shows that despite the food assistance programs the number of food-insecure people has increased from 7.2 million people in 2021 to 7.74 million in 2022. Food has become scarce and further dedicated humanitarian aid and farming assistance are needed at an urgent level to prevent expected severe hunger crises.

Women making a queue for food distribution by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in South Sudan.
Women making a queue for food distribution by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in South Sudan.

Despite the efforts of these organisations, the magnitude of humanitarian aid is meager and insufficient. Only 3% of the total $6 billion UN 2022 humanitarian appeal for the countries of South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia have been approved to date.

Humanitarian funding is getting low. The World Food Program in October 2021 suspended food assistance for 100,000 displaced people in South Sudan due to a lack of budget. The United Kingdom also cut humanitarian aid to South Sudan for its austerity measures.

While the world community is focusing on the Russian-Ukraine crisis, there is a real danger of deaths and destruction can become a reality if the attention is not being given to the dire hunger situation in the nations of East Africa.

Also Read: Human Rights on the Brink of Tragedy Due to a Severe Drought in the Horn of Africa

It is important to keep focused on the peace process to make the environment secure in South Sudan so as to achieve effective implementation of humanitarian efforts.

No doubt, a collective responsibility from the world community is the need of the hour.