Famine averted, but crippling hunger crisis escalates in previously stable areas of South Sudan

By Action Against Hunger

Nov 10 2017

In response to a new Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) global alert released this week, the international humanitarian organisation Action Against Hunger issued an urgent call for political leadership to end the conflict-driven hunger crisis in South Sudan. Although famine is no longer occurring in the two counties where it was declared earlier this year, acute food insecurity is now affecting 1.4 million more people than at the same time last year, and has been classified at emergency levels (IPC Phase 4) in fairly stable parts of the country not directly impacted by armed conflict. According to the IPC alert, in the worst-case scenario, famine is possible in 2018 in multiple locations throughout the country.

“It is not unusual to see seasonal spikes—or declines—in levels of hunger in different parts of the country,” said Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in South Sudan, Guy Halsey. “But what we are seeing is devastating. Prevalence of acute malnutrition has exceeded the emergency threshold throughout the country. Persistent conflict—compounded by economic instability and climate change—has eroded people's livelihoods and forced millions of people to flee.”

The IPC alert—released by the government of South Sudan, several UN agencies, and humanitarian partners, including Action Against Hunger—warns that 45 percent of South Sudan’s population will face severe food insecurity during the harvest season this year, from October to December, when food is usually most plentiful. In early 2018, the lean season (the period between harvests when food supplies run low), is expected to begin three months earlier than usual, putting already vulnerable people at even greater risk.   

A surge of international humanitarian assistance after the famine declaration earlier this year improved food security and saved the lives of malnourished children in the areas of Unity, Jonglei, and Northern Bahr el Ghazal that were then of greatest concern.

“This progress is very fragile and dependent on humanitarian assistance,” said Halsey. “We need resources not only to provide lifesaving treatment for acutely malnourished children, but also to address the underlying causes of hunger. People need help to rebuild their livelihoods and to ensure reliable access to affordable food, health care, clean water, sanitation, and markets for the long term.”

Severe shortfalls in funding for the international humanitarian response resulted in delays, limited coverage of services, and shortages of essential relief commodities. In fact, funding for humanitarian emergencies is often short-term and does not allow for sustained programming that helps communities recover—in South Sudan or in other countries experiencing severe crises.

Mobilising resources for immediate, lifesaving interventions and longer-term recovery efforts in South Sudan are urgent priorities—but Action Against Hunger warns there is an even more urgent need for viable political solutions to end the crisis.

“Humanitarian efforts have kept people from catastrophe and alleviated suffering,” said Action Against Hunger’s East Africa Regional Director, Hajir Maalim. “But humanitarian aid cannot end the conflict in South Sudan. Without a political solution, hunger will worsen and persist, despite our efforts.”

Action Against Hunger is meeting urgent humanitarian needs of populations in Jonglei, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Warrap. The organisation is reaching more than 580,400 people with lifesaving emergency food and nutrition programs, as well as support for livelihoods and water and sanitation interventions. Action Against Hunger’s multisector emergency team is supporting emergency assessments and delivering lifesaving humanitarian assistance in parts of the country where needs are most urgent, including the counties of Ayod and Pagiur in Jonglei, where no other humanitarian actors are present.

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