We shouldn’t be writing this. Four years ago, the nation of South Sudan celebrated its independence; the crowds in Juba were brimming with hope and optimism. During President Obama’s first trip to Ethiopia this summer, he convened a meeting with regional leaders to discuss how that hope has been replaced with worry due to conflict and hunger.
South Sudan, as Nicholas Kristof described in vivid detail, is on the brink of famine. The civil conflict that enveloped the fledgling country 18 months ago, combined with poor harvests has left 1/3 of the 4.6 million people who live there “severely food insecure,” or unable to produce or purchase adequate food. As we have learned from other humanitarian crises, women and girls are often disproportionately affected by food insecurity.
Organizations that deliver aid, like World Food Program (WFP), have had to use every means possible to try and deliver lifesaving assistance: airdrops, river boats, cash and vouchers, and the construction of roads to connect areas that are still producing food to markets. However, conflict makes aid delivery difficult and dangerous, even to areas that aren’t directly affected by fighting. In South Sudan, the road from the capital Juba has been blocked, borders are closed, and prices of staple goods have dramatically risen. When people (again, mostly women and girls) flee from violence it is to remote areas, and the fields, livestock and fish that feed and provide their income don’t travel with them.
And let’s not forget that funding from the international community is also not keeping up with needs. WFP recently had to halve the value of food vouchers given to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and may cut all help for close to half a million Syrians in Jordan next month. Global contributions are up, but the need for support in crisis situations is rising faster.
Of course, without an end to the conflict there can be no long-term solution to this or any other crisis – but in the interim period, agencies that provide relief to those caught in the crossfire need humanitarian access and resources to reach the most vulnerable. The effects of hunger and malnutrition are permanent and intergenerational. Inaction now will ensure that the reverberations from this 18 month conflict will be felt for generations.