South Sudan may be the world’s newest country but the nation, which only gained independence in 2011, has never really known a period of peace or political stability. The civil war which has raged in South Sudan for over 3 years has cost thousands of lives but the country now reports that it is on the brink of an even deadlier disaster; famine. Famine is an extreme lack of food that almost always results in severe malnutrition and all too often, starvation. Over 100,000 South Sudanese are already experiencing famine with an additional 5.5 million at risk this year (according to the UN). The entire population of South Sudan is only 11.3 million (2013) meaning that nearly half of the total population is at risk.
Although famine is usually a consequence of a prolonged period of drought, flooding or other natural disasters, the famine facing South Sudan is as direct result of war, making the prospect an even more bitter tragedy. The armed conflict and ‘ethnic cleansing’ of this violent civil war have left over a million homeless and tens of thousands dead. Of those displaced or killed many are/ were agricultural workers who can no longer safely farm the land that once supported this country.
The main agricultural region of Central Equatoria has been particularly badly hit (Famine in South Sudan) with over half a million inhabitants displaced and food production grinding to a halt. Coupled with severe inflation, the situation has become desperate as food prices have soared beyond the reach of most of the population. Perhaps most worrying of all is the apparent blocking of international aid and relief from the UN by the South Sudanese government.
To add insult to injury, unlike the desert conditions of northern Sudan, South Sudan has fertile land and a sufficiently wet and mild climate, which together produce the perfect conditions for extensive arable and pastoral farming. Food security (enough food for everyone to eat well) is not only possible in South Sudan but there is even potential to export some of its produce. But only during a time of political stability. Not civil war.
Instead of celebrating independence this new country faces the bitter, bitter irony of children lying dying alongside fallow, fertile fields.
We keep the people of South Sudan in our thoughts as they face this new disaster and sincerely hope that aid may get through to those most severely afflicted.