Famine over in South Sudan, but that’s “only part of the story”

June 30, 2017
Written by Kristin Myers
Photo by Kieran McConville

A recent report shows that South Sudan is no longer technically in a state of famine. But across the country, the food crisis is affecting more people than ever.

No more famine, but hunger on the rise

According to the most recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, famine is over in South Sudan, due in large part to increases in food aid and a swift humanitarian response.

Malnourished baby in Unity State South Sudan

A child eats a nutritional supplement in the swamps of Unity State, South Sudan. Concern and our partner Nile Hope launched an emergency nutrition program for mothers and babies in this area after famine was declared in February. Photo: Kieran McConville

However: “The headline that famine has been declared over is only part of the story,” says Fiona McLysaght, Concern’s South Sudan Country Director. The current situation, she says, remains “stark.”

Nearly two million people are still on the brink of starvation, and it’s estimated that by July six million people — half the population — will not have access to enough food. That will be the highest number ever recorded for South Sudan.

Many people migrated to areas where it was easier to access assistance. This has had the effect of dispersing rather than truly alleviating levels of need.

Earlier this year, famine was declared in two counties of Unity state, an area in the north of the country. It was estimated that more than 100,000 people in Unity faced starvation, and a further one million were on the brink of famine. As part of the international response, Concern and its partner Nile Hope launched an emergency nutrition program in Leer — one of the affected counties — that treated mothers and babies for severe malnutrition.

nutrition nurse in South Sudan

Aaden*, a Nutrition Nurse with Concern’s South Sudan partner, Nile Hope, with children in Unity State, where famine was declared in late February. People have been hiding on the islands from fighting. Photo: Kieran McConville

Numbers tell a complicated story

While the efforts of international agencies like Concern appear to have helped stabilize the situation, it’s also likely that many people migrated to areas where it was easier to access assistance. This has had the effect of dispersing rather than truly alleviating levels of need.

Much of the population living in South Sudan’s Unity and Greater Jonglei states continues to face crisis and emergency levels of hunger, according to the report. Some 45,000 people are experiencing “catastrophic” conditions, leading to a public health emergency in several areas.

“We cannot let South Sudan slip off the world’s radar.”

“It is vital that the humanitarian community continue its effort to ensure that more people don’t slip into famine, emergency, and severe food crisis levels,” says McLysaght. “We cannot let South Sudan slip off the world’s radar.”

A woman starts a cooking fire at the temporary settlement built on Kok Island in the swamps of Leer County, Unity State, South Sudan. People have been hiding on the islands from fighting.

 The devastating food crisis is largely the result of the country’s ongoing conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people, destroyed the economy, and forced more than 3.5 million to flee their homes. “The humanitarian situation is worsening as more areas become inaccessible,” McLysaght explains. If the war continues, the food and nutrition situation is likely to deteriorate further.”

Items left behind in abandoned

An abandoned settlement in Unity State, South Sudan. Locals say the area, where people had been hiding from fighting, was raided, sending it’s inhabitants fleeing without their possessions. Photo: Kieran McConville

What Concern is doing

Concern has a staff of 300 in South Sudan, reaching over 400,000 people. We operate in Unity state, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Juba, providing emergency nutrition for the severely malnourished and distributing food. Concern also provides clean water and latrines, and operates preventative health and nutrition programming.

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