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"Race Against Time To Reach The Hungry In South Sudan"

WFP is scaling up to reach some 2.7 million people across South Sudan with food aid this year as the country reels from poor harvests, high food prices and violent conflicts. Copyright: AFP/Bosire Bogonko

Hunger is on the rise across South Sudan as poor harvests, soaring prices and conflict push millions to the edge of survival. In response, WFP plans on feeding more than 2.7 million people there this year. WFP Country Director Chris Nikoi says that approaching rains, poor infrastructure and high levels of malnutrition make the emergency operation a race against time.

How many people in South Sudan are at risk of going hungry this year?

4.7 million South Sudanese will struggle to meet their food needs in 2012, which is about half the population of the entire country. One million of them are already severely food insecure and will need assistance to meet their food needs.

Operationally, what are some of the biggest challenges that you face in getting food assistance to the people who need it?

South Sudan is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. Once the rains begin, 60 percent of the country will become inaccessible because there aren’t enough roads. We are always racing against time to get food assistance to the right locations before the rains.

In addition, the border-closure between Sudan and South Sudan has meant that we’ve had to find new ways to bring food into the country. To get around the bottlenecks that form along shipping routes from Kenya, we’ve now opened a separate corridor to bring food in from Djibouti. We’re also sourcing food from countries like Tanzania

What are the main factors behind the current hunger crisis in South Sudan? 

The first factor is the failed harvest, caused by the late rains in October and November. The second is conflict, which forced 350,000 people from their homes this year. Conflict leads to displacement and displacement interferes with farming. Then, there is the border closure between Sudan and South Sudan. This has made the situation worse. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese are now returning home from Sudan [increasing the numbers of people needing food – ed]. 

What are the main reasons people have fled their homes this year?

The first is violence between neighbouring communities. At the end of 2011, there was a major conflict broke out that affected over 140,000 people. The second is the violence in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile region which has driven 100,000 Sudanese refugees across the border into South Sudan.

We know that WFP is now working to provide emergency food assistance in South Sudan. What are we doing to build longer term food security in the country?

The weather shocks will come, but the important thing is to build resilience. We’re working with communities to help them grow more food, improve storage facilities and improve their access to markets. In fact, we’re helping to build a whole network of feeder roads that will make it easier for farmers to get their produce to markets. Another important measure is providing children with proper nutrition to ensure their proper cognitive and physical development, because the future of South Sudan rests on them.

What is the key to insuring food security in South Sudan in the long term?

Only 4 percent of the arable land in South Sudan is currently cultivated. There is huge potential for agriculture. In order to reach that potential, however, communities need peace and stability so they can focus on their livelihoods. Providing food assistance to communities that need it is an important way of supporting that kind of stability.