Famine has been officially declared in South Sudan by the United Nations. A new Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report estimates 4.9 million people (42 percent of the population) have severe food insecurity, meaning inadequate access to food, and projects that the situation will continue to deteriorate through July 2017. More than 1 million children are acutely malnourished, and approximately 100,000 people are at immediate risk of starving to death. The U.N. and other aid organizations are calling for immediate assistance to avert an even greater humanitarian crisis.
Since civil war broke out in 2013, the U.N. estimates more than 1.5 million people have fled the country, and 2.1 million have been internally displaced. The conflict has raised fears of genocide from international observers and local reports indicate that the Sudanese armed forces have started a new offensive. The World Bank reports that the economy, heavily dependent on dwindling oil exports and disrupted by the conflict, is contracting. As of October 2016, the extreme poverty rate was 65.9 percent and increasing.
“Famine has become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan and our worst fears have been realized. Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive. The people are predominantly farmers and war has disrupted agriculture.” said Serge Tissot, Representative in the South Sudan for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “They’ve lost their livestock, even their farming tools. For months there has been a total reliance on whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch.”
The last declared famine was in 2011 in Somalia and official estimates reported a quarter million deaths, half of which were children. A delayed response by the international community was indicated as a partial cause for the high death toll.
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund Executive Director Anthony Lake said, “Time is running out for more than a million children. We can still save many lives. The severe malnutrition and looming famine are largely man-made. Our common humanity demands faster action. We must not repeat the tragedy of the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa.”
The U.N. reports that in addition to South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are at risk of famine and request immediate assistance for all four countries. According to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on February 22, “We are facing a tragedy; we must avoid it becoming a catastrophe. We need at least USD$4.4 billion by the end of March to avert a catastrophe. Despite some generous pledges, just US$90 million has actually been received so far–around two cents for every dollar needed.”