Another Niger? Emergency in Southern Sudan Ignored

Amidst donor fatigue and emergency-saturated media, world ignores nutritional crisis

Once again a population faces starvation—and disastrously, once again no one is paying attention.

Malnutrition levels in southern Sudan have once again surpassed the emergency mark, according to a report from the international aid organization Action Against Hunger (ACF). Yet despite the current nutritional crisis (and despite routinely surpassing emergency levels for three years running), concerted international action has been scant and few resources have been dedicated to addressing the emergency and long-term needs of the populations in southern Sudan. Action Against Hunger's recent nutritional assessment of southern Sudan shows that malnutrition levels are dangerously high, even in a country that consistently surpasses emergency levels.

Sudan: A Nutritional Crisis by Any Standard

The Action Against Hunger (ACF) report shows alarmingly high rates of moderate and severe malnutrition, or global acute malnutrition (GAM), throughout the region. The overall rate of GAM is 20.7%, above the 15% emergency threshold and equaling the rates of malnutrition currently observed in Niger. However, the report also shows that in certain areas of Upper Nile and Bahr-el-Ghazal regions the malnutrition rates have reached up to 39% and 64%.

"The nutritional situation in southern Sudan is dire by any standards," said Roger Persichino, Desk Officer at Action Against Hunger.

"Rates show a prevalence of malnutrition comparable to what we have in Niger or in Darfur. But it seems that nobody cares or, maybe worse, that everybody has gotten used to it."

Indeed, there seems to be a general world impression that southern Sudan is not suffering from a nutritional emergency. Although for the past three years the Global Acute Malnutrition rates in southern Sudan have been at or above 20%, and three of the last five famines during the 20th century occurred here, most international aid coming into the region is slated for long-term development, not for alleviating the current nutritional crisis. Says Persichino, focusing on re-development of the area will be beneficial, but jumping ahead without addressing the current situation or putting in place a foundation for dealing with emergencies shows a disturbing complacency.

"Southern Sudan is a place where people are used to absurdly high rates of malnutrition, and it's not acceptable," said Persichino. "We're looking at a place that is literally on the verge of a famine every year."

Avoiding Another Niger

To put the crisis in southern Sudan in perspective, the malnutrition rates are at or above the rates currently observed in Niger.

Until recently, Southern Sudan suffered from a 20-year civil war that left an estimated 2 million people dead, mostly through disease and hunger, and drove millions more from their homes. Having signed a comprehensive peace agreement on January 9, 2005, the government of southern Sudan now faces the challenge of rebuilding areas once devastated by this conflict and meeting the needs of those now returning to the homes they fled.

Yet the improving political situation in southern Sudan may actually be worsening the crisis—scarce resources, sporadic localized conflicts, poor local infrastructure, and insufficient health facilities have left much of the returning population with few or no resources.

Few international resources have been dedicated to addressing the emergency and long-term needs of the populations in southern Sudan. ACF implores the international community to assume its responsibilities in order to avoid another Niger in the Sudan.