Photo by J. Seagle
May 20, 2014 – This past December, just two and a half years into its fragile independence, South Sudan and its more than eight million citizens were thrown into crisis by violent political unrest, with conflict between The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and its opposition. Since then, more than 1.3 million South Sudanese have been displaced from their homes, including some 310,000 who have become refugees in neighboring nations. If urgent action is not taken to position and deliver aid, the humanitarian picture is predicted to turn catastrophic by the end of the year.
The most serious type of humanitarian emergency
Reflecting the gravity of this situation, United Nations Emergency Directors are contemplating a rare six-month extension of a Level 3 emergency activation, the most serious level; such extensions are usually granted in three-month increments.
This impending declaration reflects the fact that some 6.9 million South Sudanese are currently food insecure. Between June and August of this year, this number will increase to 7.3 million people. The most affected states in South Sudan are Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei, where somewhere between 50% to 85% of the population is living in a state of crisis or emergency. Still, fears are mounting that the geographic scope of the conflict is spreading—and regardless of whether a State is directly in the line of fighting, the scale of the humanitarian emergency has spread to the entire country.
This complex emergency is the result of a confluence of factors including underlying vulnerability, the effects of conflict and displacement; and the compounding element of the coming lean season, when little or no harvest is expected. It is anticipated that these factors will result in loss of livelihoods, incomes, and assets; in inadequate food access; and in prices at market so high that they are out of reach for most individuals and families.
According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification group (IPC), of which Action Against Hunger is a global partner, it is imperative that the NGO community act quickly to prevent famine conditions from coming to South Sudan. In order to do so, humanitarian groups must deliver adequate levels of aid now, and they must maintain vigilance in monitoring the evolving situation to best adapt and respond to growing needs.
Planning underway to meet unprecedented need
Throughout the escalating crisis, Action Against Hunger has continued to run our nutrition, food security, and water, sanitation and hygiene programs in our operational areas of Warrap and Northern Bahr el Gazal states. We have treated 7,080 malnourished children in these two states since the beginning of this year, and another 6,500 children are currently undergoing treatment in our programs. Many of these children and their families are internally displaced, having traveled from core conflict areas in the east, to Warrap.
In order to meet the high level of need for lifesaving nutrition services, we are setting up a dedicated Nutrition Emergency Team (NET), tasked with prioritizing the response to nutrition needs across all of South Sudan’s ten states. The NET is launching thanks to funding support from the European Commission humanitarian aid office (ECHO) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)/Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). Additional emergency teams may be deployed, contingent on an improvement in South Sudan’s security context.
We are also in conversation with our partners and donors about scaling up monitoring of malnutrition trends across the country for the near-term future, following the recent reports on food insecurity. This could potentially involve setting up a dedicated emergency surveillance unit to support all NGOs running nutrition interventions in South Sudan.
We have deployed multiple nutrition, food security, and water and sanitation experts over the past few months, and will continue to do so as the operational context remains feasible. In order to best prepare for our growing response, we are also hoping to increase our stockpiles of essential nutrition treatment products and other relief items in South Sudan and regionally.
Lastly, we are fully cognizant and actively involved in providing support for the refugee crisis that is emanating from the situation in South Sudan. As such, Action Against Hunger is presently running nutrition and water and sanitation projects in both Uganda and Ethiopia.
At the South Sudan Humanitarian Conference taking place today, Tuesday, May 20th in Oslo, Norway, representatives from all major donor nations are gathering to discuss how best to avert a major crisis. Action Against Hunger joins the larger humanitarian community in appealing to donors to step up their support to fight malnutrition and other lifesaving programs in this hour of need.
“When all is said and done, two factors will determine our effectiveness in South Sudan,” explains Nipin Gangadharan, Head of East Africa Programs for Action Against Hunger. “One is the availability of funding to mount the needed, massive response. The other is our ability to physically reach people in the midst of prevailing insecurity.”
A track record of service in South Sudan
For more than twenty years, Action Against Hunger has worked with vulnerable populations in what is now South Sudan, responding to high malnutrition rates, a lack of clean water, and chronic food insecurity. After claiming independence in 2011, the Republic of South Sudan faced both emergency situations and long-term development challenges. These problems continue today—nearly seven million people in South Sudan are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including food aid.
In 2013 alone, Action Against Hunger treated some 27,000 severely malnourished children while helping another 45,000 people access lifesaving care; provided more than 189,000 people with access to clean water and sanitation; and helped more than 80,000 people regain their self-sufficiency.
Today, our main office for the country is in its capital, Juba, and we run nutrition, food security, and water, sanitation and hygiene programs out of three bases—in Alek, Malualkon, and Wunrok. A leader in the nation’s NGO community, we maintain key coordination roles including Co-Lead Agency for the Nutrition Cluster, Cluster Focal Point for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (Warrap) and for Nutrition (Northern Bahr el Gazal). Action Against Hunger also hosts a senior nutrition emergency coordinator, on behalf of the Global Nutrition Cluster, who is currently being deployed to help coordinate the nationwide nutrition response in South Sudan.
Read the official press release: Statement on South Sudan