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From triumph to tragedy: famine could hit world’s newest country by August

South Sudan at risk of imminent famine

Suffering from a six month civil war, the world’s youngest country could begin experiencing famine conditions in the next few weeks, according to an analysis from a group of British aid agencies.

The UN has been warning for months that South Sudan—which was only established in 2011—faces a worsening food crisis in the midst of internecine fighting, yet aid has been slow in coming. Now, the Disasters Emergency Committee—a coalition of 13 well known NGOs—along with IPC Partners have announced that 3.8 million people in the country could ‘crisis’ or ’emergency’ food insecurity by August if more funds aren’t pledged.

“We are gravely concerned that millions of people are facing an extreme food crisis in South Sudan this summer and there is a very real risk of famine in some areas,” said DEC Chief Executive Saleh Saeed.

The UN estimates that give million people in the country are in need of emergency assistance and that 50,000 children could perish from malnutrition. It has asked for $1.8 billion to help stem the food crisis, yet by mid-June only around $730 million had been pledged.

A South Sudanese girl at independence festivities in 2011. Photo by: Jonathan Morgenstein/USAID.

A South Sudanese girl at independence festivities in 2011. Photo by: Jonathan Morgenstein/USAID.

When the country split from Sudan nearly three years ago, its creation was met with much fanfare and widespread media coverage, yet the news of the country’s current woes have been less publicized.

“Public awareness of the crisis in the UK remains very low, making a successful appeal extremely difficult,” said Saeed.

The war started last December when President Salva Kiir accused his vice-president, Riek Machar, of an attempted coup. The allegation quickly led to warfare with both sides already accused of flagrant human rights violations. Worryingly, the conflict has increasingly split down ethnic lines. Meanwhile, the fighting has displaced around 1.5 million people, many of them farmers, meaning few crops are sown in parts of the country.

In May, Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, visited the ailing country and noted, “If the conflict continues, half of South Sudan’s 12 million people will either be displaced internally, refugees abroad, starving or dead by the year’s end.”

Already the situation sounds eerily familiar to the world’s most recent famine. In 2011, famine killed approximately 258,000 people in Somalia, over half of whom were children under five. The famine was a result of conflict, government weakness, high food prices, failed rains, and an bungled response by the international community and aid agencies. Yet, the famine—the first of the 21st Century—went little seen by much of the world.

“The suffering played out like a drama without witnesses,” said Philippe Lazzarini, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, in 2013 at the release of seminal report on the tragedy.

“There is consensus that the humanitarian response to the famine was mostly late and insufficient, and that limited access to most of the affected population, resulting from widespread insecurity and operating restrictions imposed on several relief agencies, was a major constraint,” reads the report.

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