On June 14th, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced the suspension of food assistance in South Sudan, which experienced for years a tragic humanitarian disaster. The decision comes as a consequence of funding shortage and after a critical period for the population, which has suffered for months of unprecedented hunger. South Sudan is facing an extremely difficult situation of food insecurity, which is rapidly deteriorating. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) estimates that, for the current lean season (April – July 2022), 7.74 million people (63% of the population) are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above, in a scale of 5). Among them, 87,000 people are classified in catastrophe (Phase 5), 4,765,000 people are in crisis (Phase 3), and 2,892,000 in emergency (Phase 4). A worsening with respect to the previous period (February – March 2022), when there were 6.83 million people in need (55% of the population) and just 55,000 of them in catastrophe.
Several factors are at the root of this emergency. Firstly, there is growing insecurity due to sub-national and localized violence. South Sudan has experienced civil war since its official birth, in 2011. Although in 2018 a peace agreement was signed, the violence of the fighting continued, devastating harvests and leading to a lack of food. This brought very often an increase in people displacement, cattle theft and poaching, which in turn continued to fuel the conflict. Secondly, there is a climate emergency. Adverse climate factors, like droughts and severe flooding, destroyed crops and impede families to live off their food, as well as increased the competition for limited resources, like water and land. Lastly, we have to consider the aggravation of the economic sphere, above all for the effects of COVID-19, currency depreciation, lower incomes and higher food prices, which increased by 17% from May to June.
Despite this scenario underlines the necessity of food assistance, the WFP decided to interrupt its supplies, due to a lack of enough funding. “Humanitarian needs are far exceeding the funding we have received this year”, said Adeyinka Badejo, Acting Country Director of the World Food Programme in South Sudan. As a consequence, this year the organization will be able to reach just two-thirds of the population targeted for humanitarian support, putting at risk of starvation up to 1.7 million people. Badejo added that “if this continues, we will face bigger and more costly problems in the future, including increased mortality, malnutrition, stunting, and disease.” This is particularly true for children and mothers, who are likel7y to live a crisis within the crisis. In fact, according to IPC, almost 1.4 million children under five years old and 675,710 pregnant or lactating women will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2022.
“I was recently in the field, some weeks back, meeting with communities […] trying to explain to them the reason we are cutting off assistance, and the mothers were quite alarmed. What they said to me was that they would be forced to take their children out of school to work in cattle camps, in trying to help the family survive.” Badejo said. Moreover, the cut-off of food resources will no longer permit 178,000 schoolchildren to receive daily school meals, a key measure to guarantee school attendance while assisting South Sudanese children and young people. “The school provides for us beans with sorghum and this improves learning because children who don’t have money for breakfast rely on this food and during break time they stay in the school.” said Ijora Jovian, a 17-years-old student. “I am appealing to WFP to continue providing the food. Personally, I will be affected because my family cannot afford to provide enough food for me. If there is no food, I will not come to school,” said Anita Anna Samson, another 16-years-old student.
Thomas Hakim Sebit, the school’s deputy head teacher of the Mayo Girls Primary School in the capital Juba, declared that “If the food is cut off, the children will no longer come to school. I am appealing to WFP and the international community to continue supporting the school-feeding programme,” WFP urgently needs 426 million dollars to be able to restore assistance for families, but the arrival of international aid is far from being taken for granted.
According to the annual report of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), South Sudan is the fourth most neglected displacement crisis in the world, based on a lack of international political initiatives, lack of media coverage and lack of funding. For the release of the list, Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said: “The speed at which the UN, the EU and other international partners acted in response to the war in Ukraine should inspire the same urgency for solutions and support to the most neglected crises of our time.”
In conclusion, a combination of security, ecological and economic factors brought to the current precarious South Sudanese situation, which could be seriously exacerbated by the suspension of food aids by the WFP, particularly for schoolchildren. Nevertheless, finding the financial resources needed to lower the level of alert implies a political and humanitarian interest that is still lacking by the international community.