Press release

Famine likely in South Sudan: Christian Aid calls on UK Government to prioritise peacebuilding

A report last week by international food security experts shows that six counties in South Sudan are on the brink of famine. As we mark the seven year anniversary of the beginning of the last civil war, Christian Aid is asking for the Government to use the full weight of its merged powers in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) not only to call for improved humanitarian access, but to urge for the rapid implementation of the peace agreement as it believes that delays are one of the main causes of the food crisis.

According to the Famine Review Committee report released by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, western Pibor county in Jonglei state is facing a likely famine with some indicators surpassing phase 5 catastrophe/famine, the worst classification possible. Pockets of Akobo (Jonglei), Aweil South (Northern Bahr El Ghazal), and Tonj North, East and South (Warrap) are also in phase 5 catastrophe. 73 other counties have populations in phases 3 (crisis) or 4 (emergency). Current levels of food security assistance would not be sufficient to avert a famine.

The deadliest factor which stymies efforts to halt the worsening food insecurity is continued violence and armed conflict.  Christian Aid says that without nation-wide investment in peacebuilding, including reconciliation and healing processes, alongside retributive justice, and without significantly stepping up the political, economic and structural reforms within the peace agreement, food insecurity will only worsen.

James Wani, Christian Aid’s South Sudan country director, based in Juba said:
“If you look at the evidence that we have, and bear in mind that the situation is likely to be worse given the gaps in the formal information available, famine is most likely already happening. Floods, conflict and Covid-19 have entwined to deliver devastation and fuel the food crisis– the combined result is the destruction of crops, livelihoods, houses and dwellings, roads have become impassable, markets have stopped, supply chains have been crippled, and food prices have soared. Hunger is an ally of Covid-19.

“Christian Aid’s South Sudanese partners and our own team continue to make a considerable difference in communities across South Sudan through humanitarian, peacebuilding, development and advocacy work. Often against the odds, within a challenging environment and ongoing insecurity, their dedication and determination exemplify what South Sudan needs.

“In Jonglei, Upper Nile, thousands of people are living in water. Christian Aid and local partners are among very few organisations providing humanitarian assistance there, but transport is highly challenging. However, areas outside the flooding continue to be affected by conflict, inhibiting people to move freely to safer areas to access food.  
“The legacy of the conflict in Greater Upper Nile, where starvation was used as a weapon of war by denying humanitarian access, is still being felt as communities try to recover but the compounding effects of Covid-19, flooding and inter-communal fighting sustain their vulnerabilities.”
Christian Aid calls on the UK Government to increase support for programmes which increase the resilience of communities, including an increase in cash and voucher distributions so people can choose exactly what they need most, and to invest in local and national humanitarian agencies who are at the forefront of tackling the crisis and leading reconciliation processes.

Jane Backhurst, Christian Aid’s Senior Adviser added:
“The UK could demonstrate its diplomatic prowess and humanitarian legacy merged within the FCDO to fill the political void in leadership around UN Security Council Resolution 2417, which condemned the starving of civilians, and to urge for a proper implementation of the peace agreement. Without the systems and structures agreed in the peace agreement, our humanitarian efforts can otherwise be thwarted or to no avail. A massive, renewed push from all stakeholders is needed to grab hold of the hope of that agreement, make it a reality and push back food insecurity.”
Notes to editors
Christian Aid has been working with church and non-church local partner organisations in Sudan and present day South Sudan since the 1970s, in Greater Bahr El Ghazal, Unity State and the Equatorias. Our work helps affected people in hard-to-reach and the worst affected areas.