Devastated by famine: My visit to South Sudan two years on
When I visited South Sudan in December 2016, every hotel entrance had women with children begging for food.
I lived in South Sudan for many years, but when I visited with Plan International UK at the end of last year for four weeks, it was a very different place. Where I was in Nimule, four miles from the Ugandan border, the once thriving town showed a very dim sign of life. Thousands of homes, schools, and farmlands remained deserted as people moved to Uganda for refuge.
South Sudan is currently suffering a severe food crisis. Inflation has peaked, in 2015 it cost 15 SSP to eat a decent meal, but now it costs 500-700 SSP – making it incredibly difficult for families to survive. Loss of dignity and pride was quite visible, never in South Sudanese history had I ever seen South Sudanese women beg by the roadside or hotel entrance.
Causes of the South Sudan famine:
- Years of civil war - In July 2013, the president relieved over four state governors, ministers and other senior government and military officials from their positions including the then vice president (and the now leader of the opposition armed forces). The political environment since then remained tense and on the 15 of December 2013, fighting started near the presidential palace. The government accused the former vice president of plotting a coup to overthrow the government and the fighting spread to nearby military barracks. The war quickly took ethnic direction instead of a political one as the two largest tribes in South Sudan turned against each other. Civilians fled their homes, seeking refuge in nearby camps, farms lands were abandoned, cows were either sold or looted and agricultural production seized.
- Reliance on imported food – South Sudan largely depends on imported from neighbouring countries but during the war, trading seized.
- Sky rocketing inflation - food prices have become so high while income levels have remained the same.
Despite the obvious risks the food crisis has brought and will continue to bring upon children and their families – starvation and malnutrition – children are also at risk of a wide range of issues that have been worsened by the famine.
Risks for children in South Sudan:
Families can’t afford to put food on their children’s plates, let alone send them to school. School dropouts increase the likelihood of teenage pregnancies.
Due to the economic insecurity, young people with no job skills have no means of earning a living and result to coping methods such as robbery and prostitution.
The practice of child marriage was already common in the many communities such as the Dinka, Murle, Shilluk and Nuer tribes. Girls are mostly married for economic reasons – as part of the dowry, families marrying off their daughters receive a higher number of cows for if their daughters are virgins. During my four week visit to South Sudan in December, three girls in the community I was visiting were married off because their parents saw it as a way of reducing the burden of feeding their family. And two other girls married voluntarily to help their family.
Our response to the South Sudan food crisis:
We’ve responded to the South Sudan civil war by providing food packages, helping families earn a livelihood, supporting children to go back to school, and educating communities about child protection risks. By September 2016 we had reached more than 300,000 people. But now the need for food is more urgent than ever before.
The food crisis is not only affecting communities in South Sudan – it’s affecting countries throughout East Africa, including, Ethiopia and Kenya. We’re working throughout the region and providing urgent life-saving aid to children and their families. Donate to help children suffering from famine today.
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