Famine in South Sudan

The BBC says that the first famine in six years has been declared in parts of South Sudan. The government and the United Nations say that about 100,000 people are facing starvation, and a million more on the edge of famine.  Civil war and economic problems together with a drought have been blamed as the causes of the famine.

There have been warnings of famine in Yemen, Somalia and north-eastern Nigeria, but South Sudan is the first to declare a famine this year. The famine is in Unity State which is in northern South Sudan (see map), humanitarian groups warned that the situation could spread if urgent food is not delivered soon. Aid agencies, including the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Children’s Fund UNICEF said 4.9 million people, more than 40% of South Sudan’s population, are in need of food.

Map of the famine area: Unity State and people queuing for food in South Sudan

What is a famine?

The UN says that a shortage of food can lead to malnutrition, and sometimes this becomes a famine. Drought and other problems reduce the supply of food but this does not always result in famine. A famine is declared only when certain levels of death, malnutrition and hunger are met, these are:

  • at least 20% of households in an area face extreme food shortages
  • acute malnutrition exceeds 30%
  • the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons

A famine does not mean that the UN or particular countries have to do anything, but it focuses attention on the problem. The UN report said that an increase in humanitarian assistance was needed in order to prevent the famine from spreading.

Joyce Luma, Head of the World Food Programme in South Sudan, said that the famine was “man-made” after three years of conflict and reduced production of crops.

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