South Sudan Faces Widespread Crop Failure, Food Crisis
JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN—The threat of a massive food deficit in South Sudan is growing, Action Against Hunger | ACF International cautioned today. The international organization is concerned about the humanitarian impact of a number of troubling developments: high staple food prices and poor stocks from last year’s crop yields; an extended dry spell that delayed the planting season, a serious setback in a region plagued by seasonal flooding; and an alarming pre-harvest spike in acute malnutrition rates. This combination of factors will likely exacerbate an already existing food shortage in South Sudan, increasing the area’s dependence on external assistance well into 2010.
Over the last several months, Action Against Hunger has documented a spike in the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition, and expects a further deterioration of the situation. The number of families seeking treatment for their malnourished children in ACF therapeutic nutrition programs has doubled since last year. In one county in South Sudan—Aweil East—nearly eight percent of children have been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, well above the level the World Health Organization has designated as an emergency, according to a survey conducted by Action Against Hunger in June. ACF has scaled up its distribution of Ready-to-Use Foods to treat children facing imminent starvation.
“As the world focuses on Darfur, South Sudan faces a mounting crisis,” said Silke Pietzsch, Food Security and Livelihoods Advisor for Action Against Hunger. “Our teams in the field have witnessed whole families forced to eat leaves for sustenance as their desperation grows.”
South Sudan typically experiences a “hunger gap”—a period of routine scarcity between harvests—from June to August. This year, however, the gap has continued through September and will likely extend for several months longer. Sporadic rains have caused farmers to delay planting this year’s crops, and the seasonal flooding that typically occurs in October threatens to wash away those crops before they can be harvested.
“The consequences of two failed harvests in a row are dire in a region reliant on subsistence agriculture,” said Pietzsch.
Many families have already depleted their food stocks, as drought and crop pest infestations resulted in a poor harvest last year. Action Against Hunger is particularly concerned about the most vulnerable households that lack livestock or other assets to sell; many of them have recently returned to their land after years of displacement and lost livelihoods.
The humanitarian organization is calling for emergency funding to respond to the acute malnutrition crisis and long-term support for investments in food security. Action Against Hunger has worked in South Sudan since 1985, implementing programs in nutrition, food security, livelihoods, water, and sanitation.