Escalating warfare drives more families toward hunger

South Sudan

July 16, 2015

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  • Increasingly brutal warfare in South Sudan has put 4.6 million people at severe risk of hunger. As the crisis escalates, Mercy Corps is focused on helping families get the food and other essentials they need for survival. Photo: Rosalind Watson/Mercy Corps

This month should be a time of celebration in South Sudan — July 9 marks the day the country gained independence from Sudan after decades of civil war. That was just four years ago, but today the fledgling nation is on the brink of collapse.

A brutal civil war has plagued the country since political and ethnic fighting erupted in the capital in December 2013. Since then, more than 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes and livelihoods. Thousands have been killed, and millions more are at risk of starvation.

In just the past few months, some of the war’s worst violence has flared in areas where Mercy Corps has had a long-term presence, putting civilians and humanitarian relief efforts at risk — armed groups are burning houses; destroying schools, hospitals and water points; attacking civilians and aid convoys; and looting humanitarian supplies.

The ongoing clashes have left almost 8 million people in need of humanitarian aid. And 4.6 million — the highest number since the start of the crisis — are now officially classified as food insecure and facing severe hunger.

Since the conflict began, our team has been working tirelessly to support people whose lives have been disrupted by providing urgent food, water and sanitation assistance. And we provide livelihood support that enables vulnerable families to sustain themselves instead of relying on negative coping measures — skipping meals, exhausting savings — to survive.

As the war continues to rage, Mercy Corps is focused on reaching the most vulnerable people with the emergency assistance they desperately need to survive in the often dangerous and hard-to-reach areas they’ve sought refuge.

We’re working quickly to provide clean water and install high-quality sanitation systems in crowded displacement sites in conflict-ridden Bentiu, in northern Unity State. The addition of latrines, bathing spaces and hand-washing stands preserves the dignity of families living in the camp and helps mitigate the soaring risk of disease.

During the rainy season, heavy flooding prevents road access to many remote locations, making humanitarian deliveries particularly difficult. Photo: Rosalind Watson/Mercy Corps

And in rural locations — small villages or the wild bush — where the majority of the internally displaced are sheltering, we’re helping people get food, money and vital supplies.

Widespread, frequent displacement in these areas has prevented people from planting the crops they would normally rely on for food and income, and violent attacks regularly devastate markets and disrupt the flow of goods.

Due to massive inflation, which has tripled the price of staple items, the food and basic necessities that are available are too expensive for poor — and often jobless — people to afford. And heavy seasonal flooding isolates many areas, such as swamps and islands, completely cutting off families from supplies and humanitarian aid and putting them at increased risk of waterborne disease.

In the hardest-hit half of the country, 1 in 3 children are acutely malnourished. And as the economy deteriorates further, people nationwide are also at risk of plunging into crisis, with many families reportedly already cutting down from three meals to one meal per day.

Mercy Corps helps deliver survival kits to vulnerable, isolated communities. The kits contain lifesaving supplies that they otherwise wouldn't have access to. Photo: Thiri Aung/Mercy Corps

In partnership with other humanitarian agencies, we’re supporting organizations like the U.N. who are distributing survival kits by helicopter to impoverished people in remote locations.

Mercy Corps identifies vulnerable families in these otherwise inaccessible areas, ensuring critical assistance — vegetable seeds, fishing tools, water purification tablets, nutritional biscuits and other supplies — reaches the people who need it most.

And in more accessible places, we distribute cash so people can get the food and provisions they urgently need to provide safe, healthy lives for their families.

Recipients sign for their cash distributions using their fingerprint. Photo: Rosalind Watson/Mercy Corps

Local traders receive funds to resupply their market stalls specifically with the necessities that are most in demand, including foods like sugar, flour, rice, beans and salt, and non-food items like torches, batteries and soap.

With money in hand, they’re able to travel — by canoe — to larger markets to restock.

Once supplies are available in local markets, the most at-risk families, including child-headed households and the disabled, also receive cash. The money gives them the purchasing power to buy the lifesaving essentials their families need most — food, medicine, hygiene items, building materials.

This unconditional support is crucial to the survival of innocent people who are now faced daily with hunger, terror and poverty, and struggling to meet even their most basic needs.

As this violent and protracted conflict persists, we must continue to provide the urgent and high-quality support desperate families need to withstand it — before it’s too late.

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