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Action Against Hunger issued an urgent call for political leadership to end the conflict in South Sudan in response to the official declaration of famine in Unity State, where an estimated 100,000 people face catastrophic levels of hunger and imminent risk of death. According to an alert issued on February 20th by the government of South Sudan, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), and the IPC Global Emergency Committee, which includes Action Against Hunger, the number of people projected to be severely affected by food shortages between February and July 2017 is unprecedented. A total of 4.9 million people—42 percent of the country’s population—are in urgent need of food assistance, and according to a joint statement from three major UN agencies, an estimated 1 million people in other parts of South Sudan are on the brink of famine, per the IPC classification.
“Make no mistake, the declaration of famine in Leer and Mayendit counties of Unity State is not a surprise,” said Action Against Hunger’s Chief Executive, Andrea Tamburini. “As we know from decades of experience, famines are manmade. The warning signs have been impossible to miss. And yet, even at this critical juncture, the international humanitarian response is shamefully underfunded, humanitarian personnel face frequent threats to their safety, and the political commitment to end the crisis remains inadequate.”
In December 2013, civil war broke out in South Sudan. Although a peace agreement was brokered in 2015, violence erupted again in April of the same year. Much of the population in Unity State was displaced, and humanitarian actors could not gain access to areas worst affected. Since then, political upheaval and ongoing conflict—combined with widespread insecurity, inflation, food deficits, and an unstable economy—have contributed to a spiralling humanitarian emergency. Action Against Hunger, via its Surveillance and Evaluation Team, has conducted several technical assessments in Unity State and other parts of South Sudan, quantifying prevalence of acute malnutrition that far exceeded emergency thresholds.
“The IPC analysis and the data have been telling us a consistent story, clearly signaling where large-scale humanitarian assistance is needed most acutely, ” said Action Against Hunger’s Director of Programs for South Sudan, Rebeckah Piotrowski. “We have the tools and data to anticipate and take action before it is too late. It is unacceptable for the international community to wait for crises to dramatically deteriorate before mobilizing an adequate response.”
According to the IPC alert, humanitarian assistance throughout 2016 “not only sustained but also improved food security” in many areas. But access barriers that prevent humanitarian organizations from reaching populations “remain a major challenge in delivering lifesaving interventions” and gathering data on needs in the worst affected areas. In places like Northern Bahr el Ghazal, where Action Against Hunger has been able to reach communities and maintain a significant presence, our programs have improved levels of food security and reduced the prevalence of malnutrition.
“In increasingly complex, protracted emergencies, we must do more than just keep people alive,” said Tamburini. “In South Sudan, of course, our immediate priorities today are to save lives and alleviate suffering. But we must also think about what’s next and get beyond the tunnel vision of traditional emergency response. We need to plan for solutions that help chart a course in which communities can rebuild and become more resilient to crisis.”
Today, South Sudan has arrived at a deadly tipping point. Humanitarian actors are overstretched in the face of overwhelming needs, insufficient funding, and a volatile environment. It is evident that humanitarian actors are incapable of resolving the crisis itself but instead are left struggling to meet the needs with a lack of access, funding and supplies.
With utmost urgency, Action Against Hunger calls on the international community and all parties to the conflict to:
Without a political solution and safe, unconditional access to populations in need, suffering will increase and more children will die. South Sudan is now entering the “lean season,” when food stocks will be depleted even more drastically before the next harvest. Unless a large-scale humanitarian response is mobilized immediately, the IPC projects that the situation in Unity State, as well as in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, will deteriorate even further over the next six months. The world shares a collective responsibility to take action today to prevent the nation from sliding even deeper into tragedy. The time to act is now: we cannot fail the people of South Sudan.
Action Against Hunger is meeting urgent humanitarian needs of populations in four states of South Sudan: Jonglei, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Warrap, and Central Equatoria (Juba). We are reaching more than 349,500 people with lifesaving emergency food and nutrition programs, as well as livelihoods and water and sanitation interventions. Our multisector emergency team is responding on the frontlines of the widespread food crisis, supporting emergency assessments and lifesaving humanitarian action where it is most needed.