(Photo: Kate Holt, AP)

Brief #1: Famine in South Sudan.

Yesterday three UN agencies (FAO, WFP, and UNICEF) warned of increasing food insecurity and starvation in South Sudan and announced that the ongoing conflict and worsening economic conditions have left some 100,000 people facing starvation. This statement comes on the back of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released yesterday by the government, the three agencies mentioned above, and other humanitarian partners which ‘officially’ classified some counties in the Greater Unity area, where 120,000 people are in UN ‘protection of civilian (PoC) sites,’ are in famine or faced with the ‘high likelihood/risk of famine’. Although the food security situation has been continually worsening, with many observers persistently warning that widespread famine and starvation were inevitable if trends continued, it has been under-reported by most news outlets. A quick browse of the mainstream news sites yesterday and this morning reveal the disinterest in and apathy towards reporting profound, unimaginable, and frankly sickening human suffering. Today an alt-right internet troll has more headlines dedicated to yet another repugnant comment he made, so too does the ‘pie scoffing’ Sutton United goalkeeper, than the suffering of five million plus humans.

A quick but interesting aside, the declaration of famine is usually based on full and wide-ranging quantitative metrics pertaining to food consumption , nutrition, and mortality amongst other measures. However, the IPC key findings state that the absence of full quantitative data sets analyses of the current situation and the proceeding classification were “complemented with professional judgment”. Data collection and verification in conflict and disaster contexts is fraught with difficulty, the inclusion of professional judgement and ground-level observations is a welcome change.


Plenty has been written about the ongoing conflict and its ‘drivers’. Kristin Myers, Communications Officer for Concern Worldwide, wrote a decent succinct summary of the current situation and what is driving it here. Furthermore, the recent Institute for Security Studies report ‘Beyond ARCISS: New fault lines in South Sudan’ provides a more extensive and in-depth exploration of the most recent wave of the conflict and its causes.

South Sudan is engulfed in a mutually-reinforcing war system that involves more than the two principal players — the government, led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and the opposition. Several drivers of conflict, some new and others accentuated by the conflict, have emerged — badly managed decentralisation, corruption, marginalisation, ethnic rivalries and exclusionary politics, and unaddressed local grievances that have fed militias and insurgencies countrywide. — Beyond ARCISS: New fault lines in South Sudan (ISS Africa)

The numbers.

The numbers behind the announcement of a famine paint a far more disturbing picture of the food security situation, if anything can be more disturbing than a famine. An estimated 4.9 million people, which accounts of 42% of the population, are estimated to be facing severe food insecurity (IPC Phase 3,4, and 5), this number is projected to increase to 5.5 million people, or 47% of the population, by mid-July. For context, that is 10 times the population of the city of Manchester. The map below shows the projected numbers of those facing food insecurity, there is not a single area of the ‘world’s newest nation’ that will not be affected by some degree of food insecurity. Furthermore, famine and emergency classifications are predicted to worsen and spread to areas outside Unity State into more areas that are facing perpetual conflict.

Source: IPC, 2017. http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/IPC_South_Sudan_Key%20Messages_Feb2017.pdf

A series of reports and statements followed yesterdays announcement/declaration of a famine in some counties in Unity state, the news was bleak to say the least. Save the Children stated more than a million children are at risk of starvation, UNICEF released equally devastating figures pertaining to the current child malnutrition rates — over 270,000 children are severely malnourished. U.N. World Food Programme chief economist Arif Husain then framed the crisis in a wider context and hammered the severity of it home:

More than 20 million people — greater than the population of Romania or Florida — risk dying from starvation within six months in four separate famines…Wars in Yemen, northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan have devastated households and driven up prices, while a drought in east Africa has ruined the agricultural economy…In my not quite 15 years with the World Food Programme, this is the first time that we are literally talking about famine in four different parts of the world at the same time. — Arif Husain (WFP)

Furthermore, the IPC key finding reports project that acute malnutrition is likely to deteriorate nationwide between May and July during the lean season. Projections made under the assumption that conflict won’t proliferate and/or intensify above the current levels may well be proved wrong if ethnic tensions and the power struggle within the government structures magnify. Of course, there are stories of human resilience, brutality, and hope behind the numbers and they deserve to be told. However, the numbers paint the macro picture and how disturbing it is. The bottom line is; this crisis is not going away.

…and that’s the Meanwhile Brief.

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