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UN agencies call for joint efforts to tackle food, climate crisis in South Sudan

UN agencies have called for concerted efforts by the international community to tackle the complex food, climate and insecurity crises in South Sudan to prevent massive loss of lives, livelihoods and futures for millions of people across the country.

The visiting heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a joint statement issued on Tuesday  in Juba after completing a three-day visit to the youngest nation.

They said the humanitarian emergency in South Sudan is caused by a combination of conflict, climate, and soaring food and fuel prices, adding the situation is compounded by the fighting in Sudan which has led to more than 190,000 people fleeing across the border to South Sudan.

“South Sudan has the potential to be the breadbasket of East Africa, but the climate crisis, poor agriculture infrastructure, instability, and economic shocks continue to disrupt agricultural and livestock  productivity and food availability. Investments and enabling policies that will improve on longer term food security, resilience and climate adaptation are urgently needed,” Qu Dongyu, Director General of FAO said.

The trio visited Aweil area of Northern Bahr El Ghazal state where they inspected the recently revived Aweil rice scheme, and also interacted with some communities who are grappling with the effects of severe weather events, which coupled with a lack of infrastructure, are worsening the country’s humanitarian crisis, threatening farms and agro-pastoral livelihoods, and displacing communities.

The visit comes after the Joint UN report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 found that 122 million more people are suffering chronic malnourished since 2019.

Alvaro Lario, President of IFAD, said South Sudan has vast agricultural potential that remains unexploited with only four percent of farmland being cultivated.

He disclosed that 80 percent of people living in rural areas are young and capable of providing agricultural labor.

“There is enormous opportunity to grow and develop agriculture and the food sector more generally. To do this we need to mobilize massive investments and implement best practices to combat food insecurity and adapt to climate change. This will also greatly improve rural employment. But we need to act now,” Lario said.

According to the UN, 7 out of 10 people in South Sudan are between the ages of 18 to 35 and youth unemployment rates are at 50 percent, exacerbated by low levels of education, limited skills and a weak economy.

Cindy McCain, the Executive Director of WFP, disclosed that conflict, climate change, and soaring costs in South Sudan are causing some of the highest levels of hunger in the world, adding that handing out food isn’t the solution.

 “We must break the cycle and empower communities to plant the seeds of hope, opportunity, and economic development. With peace and stability, the potential of South Sudan is incredible. However, WFP doesn’t even have the resources needed to feed those who are hungry today, we need the world to step up,” McCain said.

Deng Dau Deng, South Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said the UN agencies signed a new five-year agreement to renew inter-agency cooperation which will see the agencies deepen their collaboration and  coordination at global, regional and country levels to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2-Zero Hunger.

“This is a very important step forward to ensure the partnership increases (food) production in the rural South Sudan, they want to invest more money in our rural areas and we want to congratulate these UN agencies,” Deng said.

Deng also assured of the government’s recommitment to cooperate with these UN agencies in the delivery of humanitarian assistance, vaccination of livestock, and provision of meals for some 400,000 school going children.

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