JUBA — A staggering 2.5 million people – about one-fifth of the population – remain in either Crisis or Emergency level food insecurity as fighting continues in South Sudan, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, released this week.
This is more than double the number of people who were experiencing this level of food insecurity in December 2013, when the current conflict broke out, bringing the country once again to the brink of a major hunger crisis.
An additional 3.9 million people are in a state of food security Stress, according to the report, some of whom are likely to slip into Crisis and Emergency if livelihood support, security and markets fail.
“Missed crop cycles in conflict-ravaged parts of the country mean we’re now expecting household food stocks in the worst-affected counties to run out by March 2015 – much earlier than in a normal year,” said FAO Country Representative in South Sudan Sue Lautze.
According to seasonal patterns, the food crisis is expected to deepen and the risk of a dramatic deterioration will be greatest between April and July this year, when the lean season reaches its peak, she added.
States without active conflict ¬– Warrap, Lakes, Western and Northern Bahr-el Ghazal, and Western, Central, and Eastern Equatoria – have great potential to produce enough food to sustain the rest of the country, but a lack of infrastructure, inputs and technology are among a myriad of factors that currently limit productivity.
“We have to continue to invest on two tracks: one, provide humanitarian aid to prevent the most affected areas from sliding into greater crisis and, two, boost food production and local economies in the more stable areas, so they can support recovery in other parts of the country,” according to Lautze.
FAO is urgently seeking an additional $32 million to maintain and expand its current operations in South Sudan, as well as to procure supplies needed for the coming year.
In the past year, FAO has already reached over 3.2 million people (538 000 households) with more than 570 000 emergency livelihood kits through its Emergency Livelihood Response Programme. The kits contain portable, essential inputs, including vegetable seeds, crop seeds and tools, animal health equipment and fishing inputs that have been reaching affected communities by truck and airdrop.
At the same time FAO continues to work on building resilient livelihoods and food systems by supporting local food production, access and trade.
As conflict rages in the northern states of Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile, up to 80 percent of people in these areas were unable to cultivate crops during the last agricultural season.
The coordinated, large-scale efforts of a wide network of agencies, donors and partners, including FAO, have been crucial in preventing 12 conflict-affected states from deteriorating from Crisis to Emergency levels of food insecurity. Food security and livelihoods in these areas depend heavily on the ability of humanitarian agencies and partners to deliver planned interventions, and continued support is essential.
Counties on the frontlines of violent conflict remain in Emergency phase, with humanitarian agencies struggling to make robust assistance plans amidst uncertain access to affected areas. Without better access, FAO fears affected communities could be trapped in Emergency conditions until the next harvest, starting in August 2015.
Some states affected by inter-communal violence and cattle raiding, including Warrap and Lakes, have seen their food security worsen since December 2014, as communities there struggle to feed displaced populations – the majority of counties in these states are now classified as Crisis level.
In these areas, resilience-building interventions are urgently needed to build skills, protect productive assets, generate income and expand access to markets in order to prevent communities from sliding further into food insecurity.
“When I visited South Sudan last month, it was clear just how resilient local populations are, even when facing extremely difficult circumstances. Producers in South Sudan are able to feed their country and alleviate the current crisis, but they need our support now,” said Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO’s Emergency and Rehabilitation Division.
“The dry season offers a unique opportunity to implement programs that strengthen livelihoods, as travel to most areas by road is possible and opportunities to partner with other organizations are greater,” Burgeon said.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.