Famine in South Sudan has put 100,000 refugees in immediate risk of starvation, with an additional 5.5 million people—over 40 percent of the population—predicted to be severely food insecure by July 2017.
Unity State, which borders Sudan, is the area most severely affected by the famine, in part because it has hosted some of the most severe conflicts of the country’s three years of civil war. An increase in violence last year devastated food production and caused general market collapse, creating inflation by over 800 percent.
Warfare in the region, coupled with the worsening famine, have caused 1.5 million people to flee South Sudan into neighboring countries such as Uganda, making this the worst refugee crisis in Africa and the third worst in the world. Since January 2017 alone, over 50,000 people have crossed the border into Uganda, bringing their population of Sudanese refugees up to almost 700,000.
“These crises remain among the least discussed and most underfunded in the world, despite their extraordinary scale, scope, and man-made origins,” said Ciaran Donnelly, international programs director for the International Rescue Committee.
Aid-workers have been on the ground in South Sudan and Uganda for several months, but humanitarian response faces several challenges. Teams of relief workers cannot reach the hardest hit areas without approval from over a dozen bureaucrats, and a severe lack of funding means that food supplies could be depleted by the end of June 2017. Once the rainy season begins, it will become even more challenging to deliver aid to the areas which need it most.
The current civil war also makes the country incredibly dangerous, not only for civilians, but for the international workers trying to help them. According to the country director of Save the Children, “In the last three years, at least 71 aid workers have been killed, the vast majority being South Sudanese.”
Over 60 percent of the South Sudanese refugees are children, many of whom are facing starvation due to the ongoing conflict and the lack of aid available to them. Since the beginning of 2017, UNICEF has treated 12,000 children in the most severe stage of malnutrition, and they expect to take 25,000 cases a month going forward. Although treatment can save a child’s life, UNICEF’s deputy-director of emergency operations emphasizes that aid work cannot heal all of the devastation.
“[Famine] affects the growth of their intellect … the children are damaged for life,” she said last year. “The whole country is robbed of its potential.”
Global awareness of the famine and refugee crisis, paired with increased funding for humanitarian organizations, could help to ameliorate the challenges faced by the world’s youngest country. Only time will tell if these efforts are enough.