Food insecurity across South Sudan - IRIN
The dominant media narrative on South Sudan reports the crisis with a focus on the political wrangling for control of the government, and the armed conflict it produces. Important elements of the humanitarian crisis, including South Sudan's extreme vulnerability to food shocks and its fragile economy, remain under-emphasised.
Extreme armed conflict, though spreading, is presently restricted to particular parts of the country. On the other hand, food and resource shortfalls and the localised conflicts they produce are a much more widespread, if less spectacular, explanation for dislocation and social stress. This is true even in areas that seem peaceful; the underlying violence of risky futures hangs menacingly over the present, impeding hope and undermining present efforts to create a durable peace.
Climate change and extreme weather events like El Niño are increasing the frequency (and severity) of conditions that reduce harvests and endanger livestock herds. In fresh reports, the Food and Agriculture Organization is warning of alarming levels of starvation in parts of the country as farmers' granaries run out, harvests are diminished and food prices at markets stand at record highs.
Where the three factors - conflict, food insecurity and a fragile economy - combine, such as they do in the country's northern most states, the FAO report1 warns of famine citing
alarming reports of starvation, acute malnutrition and catastrophic levels of food insecurity.....and ............rapidly depleting food supplies, and a likely protracted lean season
FAO's analysis adds that food insecurity is exacerbated by sporadic conflict in what were once reliable breadbaskets - previously peaceful, productive parts of the country like Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal.
The UNHCR warns that South Sudanese are being pushed into the Republic of Sudan by 'increased food insecurity, ongoing conflict and deteriorating economic conditions.' It reports that 38,000 Warrap and Bahr el Ghazal residents have crossed the border into East and South Darfur, and into West Kordofan.
The overall economic picture for South Sudan isn't rosy. The World Bank reports an estimate that the current conflict has cost up to 15% of the potential GDP in 20142. A fragile state looking to secure itself spends increasingly on the military and political patronage. This starves the country of much needed resources for the delivery of services, and for spending on infrastructure improvements. Even worse, the coffers from which public expenditure is financed are drying up. Oil production has plummeted and is expected to stay low, at the same time as per barrel prices are at their lowest since independence. This has had a negative impact on state spending with painful fiscal adjustments across the board. A collapse in the exchange rate and runaway inflation have diminished the country's foreign reserves and hence its capacity to import much needed foot imports in the lean April-October season.
Altogether these factors overlap and combine to push already distressed populations into extreme hunger and starvation. Dislocated populations may set off conflicts as they migrate into already stressed landscapes, bumping up against hosts who have very little share. Economic hardships may push young men who made an independent living into armed groups, banditry and sharpen existing conflicts over transhumance rights, grazing lands and fishing territory. Worse, when the state is unable to cater for public servants wages due to disruptions to its main revenue stream - oil extraction3, security forces go rogue and often turn their arms against the very people they ought to protect.
Media focus is significant for its capacity to direct the world's attention, and resources, to vital interventions that avert catastrophe and save lives. The same UNHCR article reports that the 2016 South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) that covers the refugee programmes in the neighbouring countries, run by UNHCR and 39 partners, is only funded at two per cent.
Conditions are already quite bad, but they can and will get worse if nothing is done about it now. Much more must be done before it's spectacular and newsworthy, before it is too late.
3. Ibid. WB report - Oil production has fallen by around 20% due to the conflict, and is expected to remain at 165,000 barrel/day up to the end of FY2015/16.