OXFAM is calling for urgent action to prevent millions of people being hit by famine in South Sudan.
The warning follows a report last week from the Famine Early Warning Network (FEWSNET) which said that one in five households in the eastern town of Pibor could already be classed as hitting famine levels of hunger.
Four years of conflict have depleted people’s food stocks and severely weakened the ability of communities across the country to withstand having to flee because of violence, or extreme weather.
Pibor, which sits in Boma State in the east of the country, has also had food availability plummet after pests and flooding destroyed harvests. Frequent and violent cattle raids also occur between people in Boma and those in neighbouring states.
As the rainy season sets in, much of the food people depend on has to be flown in from the capital Juba, making it unaffordable for many.
South Sudan was hit by a severe hunger crisis in 2017 with famine declared in Leer and Mayendit counties.
Nicolo Di Marzo, Oxfam acting Country Director in South Sudan said a massive aid effort helped save lives and avert an even greater crisis but after last year’s poor harvest and with this year’s harvest not due at least until July, South Sudan is facing catastrophe again:
“Waiting for a formal declaration of famine is not good enough,” Mr Di Marzo said. “People are already starving and desperate. A woman in Pibor said that her family had resorted to cooking grasses and weeds that are making them sick – but that they have no choice if they want to survive.”
“Aid efforts have so far kept famine at bay, but the need is growing at such an alarming rate that Oxfam and other aid organisations are struggling to keep up. We are seeing similarly worrying trends across the country. This is not an isolated problem. Urgent action is needed now to save lives in Pibor and across South Sudan.”
Oxfam has deployed emergency response teams to support nutrition centres across Pibor, providing clean water and soap, and working closely with communities to help avoid water-borne diseases like cholera and diarrhea; which can be major killers when people are malnourished.
Meanwhile, the latest round of peace talks in Addis Ababa this week has failed to bring an agreement to end four years of civil war.
“Any continuation of the conflict will mean more people driven from their lands, more people unable to make a living and more people going hungry,” Mr Di Marzo said.
“Without peace hunger will continue to haunt South Sudan. As well as urgently stepping up humanitarian support, the regional and wider international community must throw their weight into reinvigorating and redoubling diplomatic action to bring peace to South Sudan.”
Oxfam Australia’s Humanitarian Manager Meg Quartermaine, who has just returned to Juba after visiting Oxfam projects in Pibor said, “People I met in Pibor told us they are not eating, they go to bed hungry or they are forced to eat small inedible weeds.”
The Australian Government generously provided assistance to the humanitarian effort in South Sudan in 2017, including funding Oxfam’s lifesaving work. Oxfam calls on the Government to consider further assistance, especially multi-year funding, for the emergency response.