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Over 7 million stare hunger as severe food insecurity looms

At least 7.74 million people including children in South Sudan are at the risk of severe hunger and acute malnutrition in the wake of food insecurity catapulted by communal conflicts and climate shocks, three United Nations agencies have said.

In a joint statement extended to Juba Echo, three UN agencies – the WFP, FAO, and UNICEF, said food insecurity is likely to spike by seven per cent across the country in the coming months, compared to 2021.

The agencies cited climate shocks and subnational violence as the main drivers of hunger amid low and poor agricultural outputs.

“Climatic shocks (floods and droughts), conflict, economic downturn, displacement and disrupted livelihoods are driving the worsening trend in food security with 7.74 million people (62.7 per cent of the population) across the country slated to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse levels of acute food insecurity during the lean season between April and July 2022, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis,” the statement partly read.

The most affected states, the agencies say, are Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile, Lakes, Eastern Equatoria (Kapoeta East) and Warrap.

The aforementioned states are housing more than 80 per cent of the entire food-insecure population. The agencies called for the mobilisation of adequate resources to tame the potential impact of the looming catastrophe.

“The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warn that greater humanitarian assistance and livelihoods support is needed immediately to save lives and prevent the collapse of livelihoods in the worst-affected locations across South Sudan,” said the joint statement in part.

Specific locations affected include Fangak, Canal/Pigi and Ayod counties in Jonglei State; Pibor County in Greater Pibor Administrative Area; Cueibet and Rumbek North counties in Lakes State; and Leer and Mayendit counties in Unity State where a combined total of 87 000 people are expected to be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) acute food insecurity.

Meshack Malo, FAO Country Representative in South Sudan said his organisation will provide the necessary support that contributes to the alleviation of the estimated population from food insecurity.

“FAO is concerned by the rising number of food-insecure people driven by the additional burden of heavy flooding that has occurred in the country for the last three consecutive years,” said Malo.

“To tackle acute hunger, we need to produce more food where it is needed most. FAO will continue to provide seeds, tools and fishing kits to people in urgent need of assistance. We also need increased investment to allow us to find innovative ways to help South Sudanese farmers adapt to climate change so they can grow enough food to meet their nutritional requirements,” he added.

Children affected

According to the IPC report, about 1.34 million children under five years are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition based on the results of surveys, the Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring System survey, and programme admission trends. Children in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity and Western Bahr el Ghazal States are the most affected.

The major factors contributing to acute malnutrition, the agencies said, include the high prevalence of diseases such as diarrhoea and inadequate feeding practices of infants and young children due to a lack of dietary diversity and infrequent meals.

“As the access to those in need improves due to the peace process, we have been making significant progress in treating severe malnutrition in children, but floods and other climate-related shocks leave more children vulnerable.

More than 90 per cent of children under five put into therapeutic feeding programmes fully recover, and yet funding for this life-saving response is increasingly a challenge,” said Jesper Moller, Acting UNICEF Representative in South Sudan.

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