Protecting livestock health in the midst of conflict in South Sudan

Protecting livestock health in the midst of conflict in South Sudan


For the first time in over eight months, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Emergency Livestock Response Team in South Sudan has reached the town of Leer in southern Unity State, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting since the onset of the conflict. Due to the improved security situation, the team was given a window of opportunity to reach areas that have been recurrently inaccessible, resulting in the vaccination and deworming of 6 000 cattle, sheep and goats. 

The response team warned that conditions in Leer are alarming; thousands of livestock are feared to be suffering from disease and civilians in this area have suffered tremendously, with extremely high rates of food insecurity and malnutrition. Critically, the most recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) warned of a “concrete risk of famine” in parts of Unity State.

“What we are seeing is a severe deterioration of livestock health and spread of disease, due to the swampy nature of the area,” said FAO Animal Health Officer Botino Malual Kok.  “There are high rates of liver flukes causing fasciolosis that affect cattle, as well as chronic diseases like foot and mouth disease and trypanosomosis. Sheep and goats have been seriously affected by mange and orf”.

Worsening livestock health has led to declines in livestock productivity, resulting in food insecurity for pastoralist households. In Leer town, the community leaders reported that milk production has more than halved. The Emergency Livestock Response Team has been responding in various parts of conflict-affected areas to contain declining livestock conditions, often facing such obstacles as lack of access, traveling for kilometres by foot through swampy areas – particularly hazardous owing to unseen sharp objects under the murky water, in addition to security risks.

A cattle owner from Nyaguey area of Jonglei State, William Nyuon Khan, informed the team of abnormal mortality rates during this year’s rainy season as a result of symptoms associated with black quarter. Abnormal migration routes have also been observed, most likely due to insecurity in neighbouring Unity State. The community expressed their hope that all of their cattle, sheep and goats would be vaccinated by FAO so that they can maintain their livelihoods. “We need FAO to establish a veterinary centre so that we can access livestock treatment and medicine so that our animals will not die of diseases again,” Mr Khan added.

To build the capacity of local veterinary services in South Sudan, FAO has trained and equipped over 1 000 community-based animal health workers and treated and vaccinated over 5 million cattle, sheep and goats in 2015 alone. FAO has also tripled the capacity of the national cold chain system to ensure the safe delivery of temperature-sensitive vaccines to all targeted areas of the country. Uniquely, during FAO’s rapid response airlift operation in September and October 2015, over 10 000 cattle were treated and vaccinated in areas inaccessible by other means of transportation. As a result, FAO South Sudan has safeguarded the livelihoods of pastoralists by protecting their livestock from fatal diseases in the areas where they have found shelter.

In 2016, FAO seeks critical funding to reach its goal of vaccinating and treating over 8 million heads of livestock, thereby scaling up its response to communities in urgent need of livelihoods assistance.