Reporting from the field: Famine in South Sudan

South Sudan, February 23, 2017

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Six years ago, I stood in the streets of South Sudan as the results trickled in from a referendum that would make this the world’s newest independent nation. I saw people dancing in the streets. There was a great spirit of optimism in the air. That referendum ushered in a period of progress, with relative stability and increased outside investment.

As I landed in South Sudan this week on a dusty, 100-degree day in the midst of the punishing dry season — just as famine has been declared in some areas of the country — that optimism has all but evaporated. Instead, people are starving, and ongoing conflict threatens to consume everything.

As violence has flared up again, the United Nations site to protect civilians in Bentiu has swelled from 80,000 people to 120,000 in just a few months. Food insecurity has spread because many farmers are unable to find a safe place to grow their crops. And 100,000 people in Unity State, where Mercy Corps has one of the largest humanitarian operations, are at risk of dying because they have no food. An additional 1 million people face the same risk if something is not done quickly.

Tragically, this starvation is driven by conflict, and there is not really a humanitarian solution — only a political solution. All stakeholders, including regional leaders and the international community, must double down on the political front, encouraging all sides to come to the table and find a path to peace.

At the same time, those of us in the humanitarian community must do everything we can to save the millions of lives that hang in the balance and uphold hope for future. In regions where there is some security and a modicum of stability, we see children and adolescents going back to school, and food aid and cash assistance helping farmers piece their lives back together. We know what is possible if peace comes.

This week I visited a school where Mercy Corps, with UNICEF support, has engaged adolescents — a demographic so often overlooked in areas of conflict — helping them catch up on schooling and learn nonviolent problem solving. I also went to one of our remedial education centers, which serves adults of all ages. One older man told me, “Frankly, if there’s going to be a future for me, or a future for our country, all of us are going to need to educate ourselves.”

That future remains in doubt if the parties to conflict cannot make any progress toward peace. The only way to stop despair is to end the fighting.

As we wait and hope for peace, Mercy Corps will be here, delivering food to people in famine- and hunger-afflicted regions and working to empower them to survive through this crisis, build better lives and transform their communities for good.

How you can help
You play an important role in ensuring that these families have the support they need. When we work together, we can help even more people feel safe from conflict, stay healthy and forge ahead to a better, stronger future.

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more food, water, shelter and support to people in South Sudan and other families in crisis around the world.
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  • Stay informed. Read more stories about our work and those we are helping. Visit our quick facts page to learn more about this crisis.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story to spread the word about the millions of people who need us.