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Fighting the hunger crisis in South Sudan

Melina Grundmann
December 7, 2018

Over four million people are facing severe food insecurity. Nearly two million people have fled the country. The war has left South Sudan in a state of crisis and dispair.

A young South Sudanese girl has her arm measured at a nutrition center
Image: WFP

This summer brought a change. After five years of war, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir signed a peace deal with main rebel leader Riek Machar in August. The agreement is fragile but represents a glimpse of hope.

Still, 4.4 million people don't know where their next meal is coming from. They badly need assistance and support. Without it, they could face worsening hunger. What is lacking most is money. 

Adnan Khan is the World Food Program's Country Director for South Sudan. He doesn't think circumstances will change very quickly in the near term —  despite the peace agreement.

"The ground realities have remained the same. People who have gone out of South Sudan as refugees have not come back to cultivate their lands, particularly in the crop producing areas," Khan said in an interview with DW. He doesn't expect the situation to improve in 2019. 

The WFP's Adnan Khan
Adnan Khan is the WFP's Country Manager for South SudanImage: WFP/Gabriela Vivacqua

In 2014, for 49 percent of the population, food insecurity wasn't an issue. Now, four years later, only ten percent of the population are left in this so-called green stage.

What urgently needs to be done now is, on the one hand, to make sure that those people in emergency and disaster situations receive food and nutrition plus other humanitarian supplies in good time. On the other hand, food production must be stepped up. This is a challenging task.

33 million dollars needed

Khan considers South Sudan the most difficult terrain of all the humanitarian emergencies when it comes to providing food assistance.

"First and foremost it's a landlocked country so you have to find corridors from which food needs to come. Second, it has a food deficit of some 480,000 tons. This is a huge food deficit. Third, most of the country becomes unpassable during the rainy season. So there are no roads that get to where the people in need are."

One way to meet these challenges is to store food food before the rainy season in cooperating warehouses. Another option is to open up river corridors as transport routes. The last option is airdrops but they are expensive. And there is still a lack of funding. The WFP needs an additional 300 million dollars to continue addressing the critical food and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable people in South Sudan.

Women carrying a sack of food aid
The people of Ulang county were cut off from humanitarian assistance for five years due to the conflictImage: WFP

A huge problem is that South Sudan is among the most dangerous places for humanitarian workers. Violent attacks against aid workers are not rare; more than 100 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan since it disintegrated into civil war in 2013 and kidnappings occur on a regular basis.

"It's up to the government and the parties to create conditions that would make it feasible and likely for the opposition to come back and fully join the government", Khan said. 

"Furthermore what is positive is that the commanders of the opposition and of the government are getting together on the local level. We also see that there is some letup in the intensity of the conflict. We also see some improvement in humanitarian access.  Nevertheless the indications are that conditions because of this contact between the opposing groups might be improving for the humanitarian workers in the country", he told DW.  

A chart showing the Global Hunger Index of 2017
The situation in South Sudan is classified as alarming

As many as 5.2 million people – nearly half of the population of 11 million – are predicted to continue facing severe food shortages at least up to March 2019.