Dr. Lawrence Wongo: Looming Food Shortages: a Potential South Sudan Humanitarian Crisis

The Horn of Africa, still battling the worst hunger crisis in 60 years, should be prepared for another dry spell and further food insecurity due to the persistence of weather conditions that last year brought severe drought to the region. These conditions are expected to persist from March to May 2012, the main long rain season on which farmers and livestock herders depend upon for crops, pasture and water. Given the extreme food insecurity during 2011 that affected 13 million people and the possibility of a poor March and May season in the eastern Horn of Africa, humanitarian agencies should prepare contingency plans to quickly address any disruptions to crop and livestock production, and household food access.

Meanwhile, in South Sudan, an already dire situation is unfolding amid growing economic crisis, food shortages, and a mass influx of refugees fleeing Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states due to ongoing fighting between Bashir’s army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLM-N), which is displacing civilians towards South Sudan and Ethiopia. Given the continued denial of humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, it is inevitable that a major deterioration in the condition of people there is underway. The World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that in South Sudan, 50% of the entire population (4.7 million) could face hunger this year, up from 1.4 million last year. The country is expected to produce only half the food it needs, because of drought, internal armed ethnic conflicts and escalating food prices beyond the means of the already stressed local population.

As the food crisis approaches boiling point, the world must act to save the lives of the population at risk by distributing food aid before the onset of rains, as 90% of locations targeted for assistance will become inaccessible by road. South Sudan’s Minister for Humanitarian Affairs has urged farming communities to salvage what they could from the planting season before the rains arrive in March/April or 4.7 million people will be without enough food and will be severely affected by starvation and famine. In the mean time, affected households should be helped to cultivate their own crops in time for the next harvest in August and September 2012. Such a task cannot be tackled by South Sudan alone, because of the recent austerity measures it took to cope up with the lack of revenues from oil, which it has temporarily stopped producing due to disputes with Sudan. Some cynics say that, the developing situation, if not arrested, may create instability in South Sudan similar to what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya during the Arab Spring demonstrations that started in 2011. A politically and economically struggling South Sudan can ill-afford to experience such destabilizing conditions at this time in its infancy as the newest country in Africa and the World. Therefore, the world must respond appropriately to ensure that the country gets the support it needs to build a peaceful and prosperous country. The good news is that WFP is scaling up its assistance to those affected by the recent escalation of ethnic violence in South Sudan’s Jonglei state.