The latest report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) assesses the situation in South Sudan after the first four months of 2012. It concludes that food shortfalls are worsening and 4.7 million people are at risk from hunger. Of those, at least 1 million people are likely to be severely food insecure. The UN expects a deficit in cereal production of over 470,000 metric tonnes, twice the amount of last year’s shortfall.
The looming shortages caused the World Food Programme (WFP) to declare a Level 3 emergency in February. Since then, aid agencies have been scaling up the bringing in of food stocks. These have been pre-positioned around the country at strategic locations before the rainy season starts during the second quarter of the year. Once the rains come, the only way to move supplies around is by air, which is extremely costly.
South Sudan has been beset by problems since gaining independence from Sudan in July last year. And despite the best preparations of aid agencies, many fear for the situation in the months ahead. Conflict in the large Jonglei state between rival ethnic groups has been followed by fierce fighting along border areas of Sudan and South-Sudan, as the two countries continue to pursue various disputes. This has caused mass displacement of communities and refugees have been pouring into camps set up near the border. An influx of returnees from Sudan – around 375,000 so far – has also put further strain on the new country.
But the greatest threat comes from the halt of oil exports. South Sudan’s economy is reliant on oil revenues. However, the government has stopped pumping oil since no resolution could be found over transit fees with Sudan, which transports the oil to refineries or the coast. The oil shutdown and the accompanying austerity measures could tip millions more South Sudanese into destitution at a time when prices for food and fuel are already rising. In a separate statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spoke of the mounting humanitarian needs being seen across the country.
Peace and some form of agreement between the governments of South Sudan and Sudan over oil are desperately needed. Otherwise, the situation is looking increasingly bleak for millions of families across South Sudan.