Today is World Food Day, a day dedicated to coming together in a global movement to end hunger.
One of the hungriest places in the world right now is South Sudan, where conflict has displaced 1.4 million people and created a dire food shortage for nearly 4 million.
Food aid provided by World Vision and other relief organizations has held off an official famine, but there is still a big question mark looming over 2015.
Right now, “every night more people than the population of the city of Los Angeles go to sleep hungry,” according to Perry Mansfield, program director for World Vision in South Sudan. The fact that South Sudan has not reached the official famine status that had been expected by this fall, though a positive sign, does not mean that the food crisis is over or that famine won’t still come.
A famine is declared when: first, 20 percent or more households within a specific region face extreme food shortages; second, more than 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition; and third, the death rate exceeds two people out of every 10,000 each day.
It’s important to remember that many people can die of hunger without a famine actually being declared, and even more suffer from hunger and malnutrition. About 260,000 people died during the 2010 to 2012 famine in Somalia, “more of whom died before famine was even declared than after,” says Mansfield.
As of last month, 18.8 percent of the entire South Sudanese population was in food crisis or emergency. On a 1 to 5 scale of food security classification, with a 5 being “Famine,” “Emergency” is #4 (415,000 people last month) and “Crisis” is #3 (1.75 million people), while 3.675 million were in category #2, “Stressed.”
There are many ways in which armed conflict leads to food crises, including displacing people from their homes, damaging economies, and disrupting imports. But more importantly now as we look ahead to 2015, especially in developing countries like the world’s newest nation of South Sudan, conflict affects agriculture as well.
When farmers are displaced by conflict they are unable to plant, tend, and harvest their crops. Throughout the Greater Upper Nile region of South Sudan, planting of crops has been reduced, and this will impact the overall production of grains and lead to faster depletion of food stores.
The food situation in South Sudan in 2015 depends in large part on what is grown and harvested this fall.
This past August and September marked an improvement in the outlook on this food crisis. Rather than move into a famine, food security across the country began to improve. Normal rainfall, good crop performance, and the start of the green harvest in August all helped increase crops, livestock, fish, and wild foods.
But despite this positive turn, the harvest this year won’t be up to the capacity it should be.
The other factor that has helped to improve food security and hold off famine is food aid provided through World Vision and other aid organizations. We have been distributing food across the worst-hit areas on a regular basis, and a new report credits that ongoing humanitarian aid with helping to avert the famine. By the end of last month, World Vision had reached almost 420,000 people with emergency food and other relief supplies.
But the continuing conflict has put our relief effort into jeopardy and makes the delivery of that food uncertain at times. We’ve formed mobile response teams, which are able to distribute aid more quickly and into difficult areas where the traditional convoys can’t go.
Given the ongoing conflict and smaller harvest this year, the outlook for next winter is dire. It’s expected that 2.5 million people — half the population of the Greater Upper Nile region — could suffer severe food shortages (in “crisis” or “emergency” status) from January to March. And because food supplies are depleted, South Sudan’s resilience to any additional shocks — like floods or drought, renewed conflict, etc. — will be very weak.
South Sudan needs an end to this conflict, so people can go home, farmers can go back to their harvests, and food supplies can be distributed more securely. But until then, there is a short window of opportunity for us to take action, right now during this season that should be of harvest. In order to prevent a huge increase in malnutrition in 2015, we need to act now to scale up relief efforts.
Perry Mansfield says, “These people are in crisis, and if we act early and act fast, we can save lives.”
Join us in providing food relief to the people of South Sudan and help us prevent malnutrition and save lives now before it’s too late. Give to our South Sudan Disaster Relief Fund today.