JUBA— Millions of people in South Sudan will face hunger this year unless urgent action is taken, according to a joint report issued by WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The FAO-WFP report found that the number of food-insecure people in the country jumped from 3.3 million in 2011 to 4.7 million in 2012. Of those, about one million are severely food insecure compared to 900,000 in 2011.
Hunger crisis in South Sudan
If conflict continues to force people from their homes and food prices keep rising, the number of people who are severely-food insecure could double, the report says.
"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."
Harvests and markets
According to the assessment, South Sudan’s cereal harvest in 2011 was 19 percent smaller than in 2010 and 25 percent smaller than the five-year average. This year, farmers in South Sudan grew just over half the amount of grain the country will need to feed itself.
Poor rainfall was largely responsible for the lower harvest, together with conflict which pushed farmers off their land and prevented them from tending to their fields. The fall in supply coincided with a rise in demand as many families living across the border in Sudan have begun returning home.
Ordinarily, food markets would help to fill the gap. But closed border crossings between South Sudan and Sudan have disrupted the flow of food.
Trade with other neighbouring countries has helped, but poor roads, expensive fuel and high inflation have combined to push up food prices for the people of South Sudan.
WFP’s emergency operation in 2012 is currently aiming to reach some 2.7 million vulnerable people with 150,000 metric tons of food. That includes mothers and small children, people forced from their homes by conflict, refugees and small farmers unable to survive on what they’ve grown.
However, WFP and its partners are preparing to scale up operations if the situation deteriorates further.
“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,” said George Okeh, Head of Office for FAO South Sudan.
“We can do this by helping people to resume the farming, livestock and other activities that support their livelihoods,” he said.