With World Food Day on October 16 focusing on “Leave No one Behind”, Save the Children urged the international community not to overlook South Sudan or to divert funding to other crises, with the UN estimating 8.9 million people, or 71% of the population, need humanitarian assistance. This includes 1.4 million children under five suffering malnutrition.
The situation has deteriorated in recent months with more than 615,000 people impacted by an unprecedented fourth consecutive year of large-scale flooding, destroying homes, crops, and leading to a spike in malaria and snakebites, particularly among women and children.
This has combined with thousands being displaced by ongoing conflict that has plagued the world’s newest country since 2013 with slow progress implementing a 2018 peace agreement. A melting economy has seen the currency fall by nearly 40% this year and food prices surge, exacerbated by higher import prices linked to the war in Ukraine.
South Sudan is one of a number of countries crippled by the worst global hunger crisis this century, fuelled by a deadly mix of poverty, conflict, climate change, and economic shocks, with the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine further driving up food prices and the cost of living. One million people are facing famine across five countries, with estimates that one person is dying every four seconds of hunger.
In the town of Tonj in Warrap state, about 550km (340 miles) north of the capital Juba, traders at a local market said the price of staple foods, such as flour, rice and sugar, have more than doubled since the start of the year.
In nearby villages, farming families saw little hope of an end to the flooding caused by late and heavy seasonal rains that has left their houses and land up to two feet (0.6 metres) underwater, a breeding ground for snakes.
With only 2% of roads paved, other rural communities are cut off and unable to receive food or other assistance with dirt roads impassable and airstrips flooded.
Alek*, 28, from a village near Tonj, said her family had battled daily to find enough to eat after flooding destroyed their crop and she was lucky to get through her recent pregnancy safely, delivering twin girls in April. She said treatment at a local health centre run by Save the Children likely saved her daughters Mary* and Achon*.
“My husband used to work in the fields but then the floods came and destroyed all our crops. This left us with nothing to eat. When I came to the health centre, I thought I was going to lose my babies but they gave me medication and now I have the twins.
“My sister-in-law helps me with the twins and my husband is trying every day to find wild fruits and other food for us to eat. We struggle to get enough to eat and I don’t know how the situation is going to get better because the flooding is not going away.”
Flooding has forced hundreds of people in villages around Tonj from their homes since July with many now living in makeshift shelters as their houses remain underwater or have collapsed. Their crops have been destroyed and they guard their cattle around the clock, wary of raids.
Jib Rabiltossaporn, Save the Children’s South Sudan Country Director, said South Sudan is now facing one of the worst food insecurity emergencies in the world:
“The first generation of South Sudan children is growing up now and we must not fail them by allowing South Sudan to become a forgotten crisis. When there were warnings of starvation in 2017 and famine was declared in parts of the country, the international community acted to avert a large-scale disaster. We must do that again and now.
“South Sudan is among five of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, with drought and devastating floods a common feature. Coupled with this, nearly a decade of conflict, frequent displacements, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity and multiple disease outbreaks, families and children here are on the brink. We must not leave any one behind.”
Save the Children is calling on increased investments to build on successful and hopeful efforts around flood mitigation that saved lives previously and in flood prevention infrastructures in order to protect lives, livelihoods, and assets in the long-run.
The agency is also calling for world leaders planning to meet next month at COP27, the global climate change conference, to increase financial commitments to help vulnerable communities and children deal with and recover from climate disasters and shocks like those experienced in South Sudan. In particular, leaders must create a new climate finance mechanism to address loss and damage experienced by communities like those in South Sudan by 2023, in order to help address the cost of the irreversible impacts of the climate crisis.
So far, only about 45% of a UN international humanitarian funding appeal for US$1.7 billion has been raised for South Sudan where more than 4 million people are displaced including about 2.2 million refugees from neighbouring countries.
Save the Children has been working in South Sudan since independence in 2011. In 2021, Save the Children reached 2.2 million people in South Sudan including 1.5 million children through its various programmes focused on health, nutrition, education, hygiene, and child protection.
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*Names have been changed to protect identities.