South Sudan: From Crisis to Catastrophe

South Sudan’s man-made crisis – and how the world must act now to prevent catastrophe in 2015.

More than two million people are facing severe food insecurity in South Sudan. Famine has been narrowly avoided in 2014. As the dry season begins, the brutal conflict that provoked this disaster is about to get worse. Without an end to the fighting – and unless more aid can be delivered to those who need it – famine remains a serious threat in 2015. By committing to more vigorous diplomacy and swift action, the world has the chance to prevent that.

Summary: Driven to hunger

South Sudan is facing the world’s worst food crisis, driven by the conflict that erupted in December 2013. Unless there is an end to the fighting, this food crisis will continue. Without far stronger international pressure, the conflict is unlikely to be resolved. International diplomacy – as well as aid and the protection of civilians on the ground – is urgently needed.

The scale of current suffering in South Sudan is vast; the malnutrition situation has been officially branded as ‘dire’. 1.7 million people – one in every seven – have already fled their homes, including over 450,000 who have sought safety in other countries. In some areas, one in three children is malnourished – a level usually seen only during famine. In others, it is almost one in two, and half of those dying among displaced people are children under five. By the end of September, experts reported that the food situation ‘is much worse compared to a typical year at harvest time’. In 2015, agencies predict that the situation will worsen significantly. The most recent forecast suggests that the number of severely hungry people will rise by 1 million between January and March 2015, and that by March, around half of the population in the most conflict-affected states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei may be struggling to find enough food, or at risk of starvation.

The disaster in South Sudan is the result of a political dispute between two leaders that has escalated into a conflict engulfing much of the world’s newest nation. This conflict is rooted in the unresolved tensions of two decades of civil war in what was Sudan. It is exacerbated by the proliferation of arms and the lack of development in one of the poorest countries in the world. Men, women and children have been targeted because of their ethnicity and forced to flee, often several times. They have lost loved ones, their few belongings, and their livelihoods. South Sudan’s high hopes after independence in 2011 are in tatters.