SEVEN million people in South Sudan are facing starvation in what is a famine in all but name, the United Nations has warned.
A report by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) says that almost seven million people — more than 60 per cent of the country’s population — are suffering a critical food shortage, and 21,000 are facing a “catastrophic lack of food access”.
A spokesman for the WFP, Herve Verhoosel, said that, although it does not pass all the criteria for being officially classed as a famine, the crisis was “famine-like”. Food and fuel prices in the country have also risen sharply as stocks are depleted.
The WFP is supporting more than 2.7 million people in South Sudan, but plans to almost double that to 5.1 million by the end of the year.
Tearfund, which is working in the region to provide food and safe water, and support peace-building activities, said that starvation was a “deadly reality” for many. Tearfund’s country director for South Sudan, Martin Ruppenthal, spoke of a “very critical situation”.
Despite a peace agreement signed last summer (News, 14 September 2018), millions of civilians are bearing the brunt of the civil conflict, which is estimated to have killed nearly 190,000 people. The fighting has created more than 2.2 million refugees since 2013.
Although a ceasefire is technically in place between the Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), violence and unrest continues, and there are frequent indiscriminate attacks on Christians (News, 8 March).
The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a retreat at the Vatican in April, which was attended by the President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and four of the five designated vice-presidents, including the former rebel leader Riek Machar, who triggered civil war when he challenged for the presidency in 2013. At the end of the retreat, the Pope kissed the feet of the leaders and pleaded for peace (News, 12 April).
Last year’s poor harvest, and the delayed onset of the rainy season has contributed to the food crisis, but, the WFP said, implementation of the peace agreement was necessary for the situation to improve.
“The effective implementation of the peace agreement and political stability are imperative to allow urgent and scaled-up humanitarian assistance to protect livelihoods and boost agricultural production across the country to save lives,” it said in a statement.