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Crisis in South Sudan

Crisis in South Sudan

South Sudan is facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity, as more than 6 million people – just under 60 percent of the country’s population – are severely food insecure, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis. The outlook for the remainder of 2019 is far from promising.

While famine has been contained since it was declared in some areas of Unity state in February 2017, the IPC warns that the situation remains critical and the risk of famine persists, especially in isolated areas where conflict and other factors can quickly and dramatically increase. Some 1.7 million people are estimated to be in the Emergency level (IPC Phase 4) of food insecurity, and 47 000 at the Catastrophe level (IPC Phase 5).

Hunger increases as humanitarian access diminishes

Food shortages, climate shocks, a deepening economic crisis, insecurity and insufficient agricultural production at household level have kept levels of hunger and acute malnutrition alarmingly high. The most destructive of all the factors affecting food stability in the country, conflict is disrupting livelihoods and increasing displacement: an estimated 4.4 million people have fled their homes since the outbreak of violence in 2013, including 1.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many in the former states of Unity, Lakes, Jonglei, Upper Nile and Western Bahr el Ghazal have been trapped in renewed and widespread conflict over the past months and were at times cut off from humanitarian assistance. Although South Sudan and Sudan signed a peace deal in September 2018 to end the five-year conflict, it remains unclear whether the political process will contribute to improving the humanitarian situation in the coming months.

Food shortages, climate shocks, a deepening economic crisis, insecurity and insufficient agricultural production at household level have kept levels of hunger and acute malnutrition alarmingly high. Conflict is the most destructive of all the factors affecting food stability in the country, disrupting livelihoods and increasing displacement: an estimated 4.4 million people have fled their homes since the outbreak of violence in 2013, including 1.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Although South Sudan and Sudan signed a peace deal in September 2018 to end the five-year conflict, it remains unclear whether the political process will contribute to improving the humanitarian situation in the coming months.

Flooding, prolonged dry spells and pest infestations have also hampered crop production, with only 60 percent of the 2018 national cereal needs met by the harvest. Cereal production has steadily declined since the start of the conflict in late 2013, and in 2017 was estimated at about 765 000 tonnes – approximately 25 percent below pre-conflict levels. Further complicating an already dire situation this year, an earlier than anticipated start to the lean season, potentially poor harvests in several counties, and possible returns from within and outside the country, could put added pressure on already scarce natural resources.

Going forward, ensuring humanitarian access will be critical. “Assessment after assessment, we find that conflict is the main driver of this desperate situation, making it impossible for farmers to get back on their feet,” said Pierre Vauthier, FAO’s Acting Representative in South Sudan. “We are reaching as many people as we can, in almost every county, but it is critical to end conflict and sustain peace to prevent an already severe food insecurity situation from deteriorating even further. The only thing standing between the people of South Sudan and widespread starvation right now is massive humanitarian assistance. If peace takes hold, this must be coupled with a resilience programme to rebuild the capacity of the people of South Sudan to grow their own food and chase off the spectre of hunger.”

FAO's work

FAO and partners’ efforts in humanitarian assistance have reduced the number of people in Crisis and Emergency Phases. However, adverse climate conditions, insecurity and insufficient funding continue to hinder deliveries. Despite these challenges, FAO will continue to scale up its support both to respond to urgent needs and to safeguard livelihoods.

As part of FAO’s Emergency Livelihood Response Programme, in areas worst affected by insecurity and high numbers of IDPs the focus is on distributing emergency livelihood kits, including crop and nutrient-dense vegetable seeds and minimal-harm tools. In calmer states, FAO is protecting and boosting food production by improving local availability of quality seed and planting materials and by facilitating technology transfer through farmer field schools.

The ongoing conflict has heightened risks of livestock disease outbreaks, including the potential spread of Rift Valley fever, as the cold chain system for vaccine storage has broken down. Non-traditional livestock herding patterns have also led to the intermingling of vaccinated and unvaccinated herds, while exacerbating tensions between pastoral and farming communities. FAO is distributing vaccines and veterinary supplies to enable rapid preventative vaccination campaigns, while equipping and retraining community-based animal health workers to provide basic, on-the-move healthcare to migrating herds.

FAO’s response programme in South Sudan is made possible thanks to the generous support from the Governments of Canada, Denmark, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Norway, the Swiss Confederation, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, as well as the European Union, the World Bank, the UN’s Common Humanitarian Fund and FAO internal funding mechanisms.

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