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A third of South Sudanese now severely food insecure due to ongoing conflict

Urgent action required to prevent famine

Photo: ©FAO/Dominique Burgeon
Nyal, Payinjiar County of Unity State, a state that has been badly affected by the recent fighting in South Sudan.

Expert multi-partner food security analysis points to deteriorating situation in country devastated by conflict since December 2013

10 May 2014 , Rome/Juba - The latest IPC food security analysis carried out in South Sudan indicates that, as a result of conflict, displacement, destroyed markets and disrupted livelihoods, food security has deteriorated at an alarming rate since the outbreak of conflict in December 2013. There is a high likelihood of further worsening through the second half of 2014, with a risk of famine, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

One-third of the population of South Sudan is now experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity. Some areas of the country to appear to be at high risk of famine in the coming months.

The latest warnings on food insecurity in South Sudan are based on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis conducted in April and May.  Through the IPC process in South Sudan, complex food and nutrition information was analysed to support strategic evidence-based decisions.  The findings are based on technical consensus among a multi-stakeholders coalition, including Government, FAO, the World Food Programme (WFP), other UN agencies, NGOs and academics. The IPC is the global standard for objectively measuring food security conditions.

Rapid decline in food security

There has been an alarming increase in the number of people in the IPC Food Security Emergency Phase (scoring 4 on the IPC scale of5), especially in the three most conflict-affected states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei. In terms of response, these populations need urgent humanitarian assistance to save lives and livelihoods.

No populations in South Sudan faced this level of food insecurity before the onset of violence in mid December 2013.  Today, some 1.3 million people out of a population of 11.5 million are experiencing Emergency levels of food insecurity.

In addition, there are 2.4 million people in IPC Food Security Crisis Phase (scoring 3 in the IPC scale of 5) which means they need urgent assistance to save and protect livelihoods.

Taken together, more than one-third of the total population of South Sudan is facing exceptional levels of food insecurity.

‘These statistics are a technical way of saying there is widespread hunger and growing malnutrition that combines dangerously with diseases, livelihood losses and frankly, death," said Sue Lautze, FAO Head of Office in South Sudan and the UN's Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator there.

"Although this is the most serious crisis to affect South Sudan in at least 15 years, the IPC has concluded there is not a famine situation now (scoring 5 in the IPC scale of 5) This means there is a small window of opportunity to prevent this terrible crisis from deteriorating into catastrophe," Lautze emphasized.  "Humanitarian assistance is critical to prevent a slide into famine while seeing a rapid end to the fighting would certainly be of paramount importance," she added

Just as the numbers of people affected by serious food insecurity have increased, so have the number of areas affected.

The food security crisis is spreading westwards to areas that had been less affected earlier in the year. This trend is set to continue unless farmers can plant their fields, fisherfolk can freely access rivers and waterways, and herders can migrate between grazing areas. Even previously food secure communities are feeling the strain of conflict, in part due to the burden of hosting internally displaced people.

Communities at serious risk of famine

IPC analysis indicates that there are some populations in conflict-affected areas that, unless assisted in coming months, will likely face famine.

These include groupings of displaced communities that have not been reached with adequate humanitarian assistance. Many have fled to remote and isolated areas in order to escape the fighting, making it very challenging for aid agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance --a task that is notoriously difficult at the best of times in South Sudan, a country with virtually no roads. These areas are increasingly being cut off by a combination of rains that bring seasonal flooding and inadequate access due to conflict.  

"Humanitarian access - which includes, for example, official permissions to use the barge corridors, to freely move trucks overland without arbitrary checkpoints, searches or commandeering, and to have humanitarian goods expedited through borders - is one key factor in determining the likelihood of a famine in South Sudan this year. If we cannot reach those most exposed who are now in the emergency phase of the IPC, the consequences later this year are too tragic to contemplate," said Lautze.

"We need thirty days of tranquillity. People need to be able to go back to their land and plant their crops in peace" she said, relaying the UN Secretary-General appeal  during his recent visit to South Sudan earlier this week

FAO responding

FAO is using all means possible to reach these most affected communities with viable food production methods such as short-cycle crops, recession agriculture (planting on receding flood waters) and emergency livelihood kits containing the essential inputs needed to fish, farm and protect their livestock.

FAO's response programme is using a combined approach to ensure food security; protecting key livestock and other productive assets while providing life-saving food production kits in conflict-affected areas on the one hand, and boosting production in areas less affected by conflict to ensure a minimum level of agricultural production in country, on the other.

To date, FAO has secured funds to support 1.3 million people affected by conflict. However, more is needed; only 54 percent of the $77 million FAO appeal in the $1.27 billion South Sudan Crisis Response Plan has been funded.

Additional funds are urgently needed to bring the total assisted number of people FAO can support to 2.3 million. Governments will meet in Oslo on May 20 for a pledging conference on South Sudan, organized in an effort to galvanize further support for humanitarian support to those affected by the conflict in South Sudan.