South Sudanese ‘one step away from famine’, as UN launches humanitarian response plan

March 17, 2021

UNHCR/David Azia |South Sudanese refugees carrying Core Relief Items walk down a road in Bidibidi refugee settlement, Yumbe District, Northern Region, Uganda. Photo: UNHCR/David Azia

By UN News

As hunger levels continue to deepen in South Sudan due to a combination of violence, climate change and COVID-19, the 2021 South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan was launched on Tuesday aiming to reach 6.6 million people – including 350,000 refugees – with life-saving assistance and protection.

The plan asks for $1.7 billion in funding to enable UN aid agencies and partners to deliver lifesaving assistance to the world’s youngest country. 

“South Sudan is facing its highest levels of food insecurity and malnutrition since independence 10 years ago”, said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), adding that the plan aimed to reach 6.6 million people with life-saving assistance and protection.

The plan has identified 8.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including refugees, across the country. This is an 800,000-person increase in absolute numbers from the 7.5 million people in need in 2020.

“Violence and localized conflicts in many parts of the country also drive up humanitarian needs, and the impact again of COVID-19 on markets, services and people’s ability to move around have increased their vulnerability”, said OCHA’s Jens Laerke.  

Flood warning

South Sudan is also expected to see devastating flooding again this year. Last year and in 2019 flooding affected almost 1 million people.

Mr. Laerke voiced concern that the upcoming lean season in South Sudan, from May to July, was “likely going to be the most severe on record and the immediate priorities in the response plan are to sustain the deliveries in the most food insecure areas and prepare for this upcoming raining season which could, again, be devastating.” 

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 60 percent of the population is increasingly hungry.

“Approximately 7.2 million South Sudanese have been pushed into severe food insecurity due again to sporadic violence, extreme weather and the economic impact of COVID-19”, said WFP spokesperson, Tomson Phiri, spokesperson of the World Food Programme (WFP).

He added that “this figure includes over 100,000 people who are in those hard-to-reach areas of 6 counties who are at risk of famine. They are literally one step away from famine according to the Famine Review Committee report.” 

WFP has been scaling up its support in Akobo, Pibor, Aweil west, Tonj North, Tonj South and Tonj East, reaching 195,000 vulnerable people in early 2021.

Food stocks in place

The agency has started to pre-position food stocks ahead of that rainy season, “to ensure that crucial food assistance reaches the most vulnerable populations without delay during the lean season”, reported Mr. Phiri.  

WFP plans to reach over 5 million people in South Sudan with food and nutrition assistance across its emergency, nutrition and livelihoods programmes.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is aiming to provide humanitarian assistance for more than 2.2 million South Sudanese refugees living in five neighbouring countries in 2021.

Millions of the world’s youngest nation are displaced either inside or outside South Sudan. “The crisis continues to be a children’s one with more than 65% of the refugee population being under 18”, said UNHCR’s spokesperson, Babar Baloch. 

Needs still high

While some progress has been made in implementing the latest peace agreement, humanitarian and protection needs remain high for the largest refugee situation in Africa.

The majority of South Sudanese refugees are hosted in relatively remote and under-developed areas. Mr. Baloch said that “the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the climate change related challenges including severe flooding, droughts and desert locust have compounded an already dire situation.

“Funding is urgently needed to provide life-sustaining assistance including shelter, access to safe-drinking water, education and health services.”  

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda continue to host South Sudanese refugees and to take steps towards their inclusion in national systems.

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