People eating leaves to survive in South Sudan as aid fails to keep pace with spiralling hunger crisis

More than half the population of South Sudan – 6.6 million people – are severely hungry, including 2.2 million people at risk of starvation. Yet the humanitarian response remains woefully underfunded, and without an urgent increase in aid now, 7.7 million people or two-thirds of the population will face severe food shortages next year, Oxfam warned today. Despite the scale of the crisis, the UK government has promised just £3m in humanitarian aid to South Sudan this year.

Climate change, conflict and the spiralling costs of food and fuel have left already vulnerable communities struggling to cope. South Sudan has suffered a fifth consecutive year of severe flooding which has destroyed crops and homes and left around 70 per cent of the country inundated. Nearly one million people have been forced to flee their homes in search of food and shelter.

In Jonglei, one of the worst-affected states, Martha Kangach, who lost all her cattle and harvest in the floods, told Oxfam: “Currently we are living on shrub leaves along the river, because if you have no food, you have to eat what is available. As humans when you eat anything in little portions, it will sustain you and you won’t die. So, we go out to the bush and pick green leaves to cook.”

The UN humanitarian appeal for South Sudan has half a billion dollar shortfall, with $1.3 billion raised compared with $1.5 billion in 2020 despite the increased number of people in need of help. The World Food Programme was forced to suspend food aid to 1.7 million people earlier this year due to lack of funding. While international aid and a limited harvest has helped keep people from starvation, the outlook for the next lean season from April – July 2023 is bleak as aid declines, and 1.4 million children are projected to be malnourished.

In 2017, when famine was declared in South Sudan, the UK government provided £162 million humanitarian and development aid to the country. In September, the UK government allocated £3 million in humanitarian aid to South Sudan, but said it had not yet been spent. Despite millions of people facing starvation in East Africa, Yemen and elsewhere in the world, the government have continued to cut the overseas aid budget.

Latest estimates are that 9.4 million people in South Sudan will be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2023, over three quarters of the population and an increase of 500,000 people from 2022.

Dr Manenji Mangundu, Oxfam South Sudan Country Director, said: “Climate change, compounded by conflict and soaring prices of food and fuel, has pushed South Sudan to the brink of the starvation.

“The world cannot continue to ignore the suffering of millions of people who face a daily struggle to survive. Funding is urgently needed to save lives now and to ensure people can grow enough food and make a living in order to feed their families.

“The South Sudanese people are paying the price for a climate crisis that rich polluting nations have caused.”

Most states in South Sudan are low-lying and prone to frequent flooding. However, climate change has contributed to more frequent and heavier rainfall. Since 2018, flooding has been recorded at alarming levels destroying farmland and essential infrastructure such as schools, health facilities, roads and bridges. Even when the rains stop, the soil remains saturated, and water levels have not receded. Flooding is now engulfing areas that it hadn’t previously.

Flooding, inaccessible roads and inter-communal conflict as well as the war in Ukraine have contributed to high inflation, leaving food unaffordable for millions of South Sudanese. Prices in some regions of South Sudan are nearly double or treble the prices in the capital Juba, the only area that is well connected to the rest of the region of East Africa. In Pibor, a 50 kg bag of maize flour costs $90 compared with $40 in Juba while 20 litres of cooking oil costs $90 compared with $30 in Juba. However, prices in Juba are inflated too.

Oxfam is urging donors and the international community to step up and meet the urgent $1.7 billion UN appeal for South Sudan. The international agency is also calling for the loss and damage fund agreed at the recent COP 27 to be set up as soon as possible to support countries like South Sudan that are suffering the impacts of a climate crisis they have done nothing to cause.