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High Levels Of Food Insecurity In South Sudan

FAO-WFP report says poor harvests, price hikes, conflict and displacement worsen hunger

JUBA/ROME – Millions of people in South Sudan will face hunger this year if urgent action is not taken, according to a joint report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The FAO-WFP report, Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to South Sudan, is based on a joint mission conducted in the world’s newest nation between October and November 2011, at the request of the government of South Sudan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The report finds that the level of food insecurity has risen sharply. The number of food-insecure people has jumped from 3.3 million in 2011 to 4.7 million in 2012. Of those, about one million people are severely food insecure, compared to 900,000 in 2011.

If conflict continues to cause major population displacements and food prices keep rising, the report estimates that the number of people who are severely food-insecure could double.

Poor harvests, increased demand, rapidly rising prices, conflict, displacement and a large number of returnees have all contributed to the situation, with a shortfall in cereal production weighing heavily on already distressed communities.

"This is a rapidly approaching crisis that the world cannot afford to ignore," said Chris Nikoi, WFP's country director in South Sudan. "The situation is dire, and we are doing everything we can to be ready, but we are running out of time."

“We need to enable households to first have quick access to safe, nutritious food and other basic necessities, but in order to restore and sustain food and nutrition security in South Sudan, we need to break the cycle of increasing hunger and poverty. We can do this by helping people to resume the farming, livestock and other activities that support their livelihoods,” said George Okeh, Head of Office, FAO South Sudan.

According to the assessment, South Sudan’s national cereal production in 2011 was about 19 percent below the previous year and 25 percent lower than the average for the last five years. The cereal deficit for 2012 is estimated at more than 470,000 metric tons – almost half of the country’s total consumption requirements for the year.

Poor rainfall in the early season was largely responsible for the lower harvest, with ongoing conflict compounding the problem by disrupting normal agricultural activities. The resulting limited food supply comes at a time of significantly increased demand from the influx of returning South Sudanese from the north, and people displaced by conflict.

Under normal circumstances, the combination of insufficient food supply and increased demand would have been addressed by well-functioning markets. However, the closure of border crossings linking the new country of South Sudan to Sudan has led to disruption in the usual supply of food commodities to the markets of South Sudan.

Although the food gap has been partly filled with goods from neighbouring countries, the long distances over poor road networks, high fuel costs and the depreciation of the South Sudanese pound, have led to very high market prices.

Action underway

WFP’s emergency operation in 2012 is currently aiming to reach some 2.7 million vulnerable people with 150,000 metric tons of food. WFP will provide food assistance to severely food insecure rural households, vulnerable children and nursing mothers, internally displaced people, refugees and returnees. WFP and its partners are already preparing to scale up operations in order to respond to increased needs if the situation deteriorates further. The report estimates that the number of people requiring food assistance could rise to 3.3 million.

In order to reach 2.7 million vulnerable people with food assistance, WFP is seeking donor support to cover the current shortfall of US$160 million.  If the situation deteriorates further, additional funding will be required. 

In the 2011 agricultural season, FAO and its partners provided agricultural tools and nearly 2,400 metric tons of seeds to 165,000 farming families. Recipients included returning South Sudanese and people displaced internally by conflict. FAO also distributed nearly 5.5 metric tons of vegetable seeds to diversify household diets and improve nutrition.

This year, FAO will provide agricultural support to revive production capacity for the next cropping season that starts with the first rains in April and continues until June in different parts of the country. The Government of South Sudan has requested FAO inclusion of a cash transfer programme, similar to the one implemented in Somalia. This would allow families to buy food locally while building their assets and also stimulating economic recovery.

FAO is seeking $US 23 million in donor support through the UN Consolidated Appeal Process.