‘I’m not sick, I’m hungry.’ Fighting food insecurity in South Sudan

‘I’m not sick, I’m hungry.’ Fighting food insecurity in South Sudan


Nyalen Kuong is suffering from acute malnutrition. Seven months ago, the 40-year-old fled Leer town to Dangyow Island in Leer County with her four children after violence broke out. During the attack on her village, her husband and two sons were killed and her livestock and food were taken. 

“During the day, the children hide in the tall grass of the small forest area on the island while I collect water lilies and water lily root to eat,” Nyalen explains to FAO field officers. “But it is getting more and more difficult to find since there are many people on the island. There is a lot of fish, but it is difficult to catch them. Sometimes I exchange some of my water lilies with relatives for dry fish.”

Nyalen’s story is not uncommon. Many families are sheltering on islands protected by miles of swamp and are fighting for survival. The most recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) from December 2015 signalled an estimated 40 000 people in Unity State facing the most severe forms of food insecurity, highlighting an immediate need for humanitarian assistance. According to the IPC projection for January to March 2016, there are a staggering 2.4 million people facing severe levels of food insecurity (IPC Phases 3, 4 and 5).

“At times I go days without food and the little I get is for my children,”Nyalen says. “Hundreds of women and children are like me living on the islands. Some time ago I got diarrhoea, and travelled 18 hours by boat to a clinic in Nyal with my son. I told the clinical officer, ‘I’m not sick, I’m hungry.’”

In Nyalen’s case, the diarrhoea is a symptom of acute malnutrition — which causes substantial loss in body fat and muscle mass, as the body breaks down these tissues for energy. Because Nyalen’s degree of malnutrition was so severe her intestines no longer absorbed nutrients, resulting in the clinic giving her intravenous feeding. The treatment back to health is long and first begins with liquids and gradually, solid foods are introduced. Nyalen has since made a full recovery and through an FAO distribution received a fishing kit which helped her provide food for her and her family.

Since 2014, FAO in South Sudan has been responding to the crisis through its Emergency Livelihood Response Programme (ELRP). By providing light-weight crop, vegetable and fishing kits, FAO has helped families like Nyalen’s to produce and harvest nutritious food for consumption and sale in areas most affected by the crisis. The programme also provides support to livestock-dependent households, conducting vaccination and treatment campaigns to protect vital livelihood assets. For families in areas less affected by the crisis, FAO has implemented activities to support food production and availability, such as input trade fairs and training on good agricultural practices.

The food security outlook for 2016 however, remains bleak — especially as the seasonal changes will cause the swamps and rivers to dry up in the first quarter of the year and the hunger gap in the lean season is expected to be especially long. In Unity, households surviving on fish and water lilies will see their sole sources of sustenance deplete, and general availability of food will be very low. Unless displaced people can get back to their villages by planting time (beginning of the rainy season), they will miss the upcoming cropping season – for some, the third in a row.

To implement the ELRP, FAO South Sudan is appealing for USD 45 million under the 2016 humanitarian appeals, in order to assist 2.8 million people.