Conflict & Justice

A million South Sudanese are at risk of starving

South Sudan.jpg

Credit: Andreea Campeanu/Reuters

A South Sudanese girl displaced by the conflict carries a younger boy on her back as they walk through mud in a flooded camp for internally displaced people at the UNMISS base in Malakal, Upper Nile State May 30, 2014. There are about 18,000 people sheltering in the United Nations Missions in South Sudan.

The three-year-old nation of South Sudan is facing a crisis — actually a few crises. Fighting between rival internal factions that began last December has killed thousands of people.

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The fighting has also displaced some 1.3 million South Sudanese. Perhaps 1 million now face the risk of famine in coming months. And there's a new cholera outbreak.

Nancy Lindborg, USAID's assistant administrator for democracy, conflict & humanitarian assistance, was recently in South Sudan.

I had a chance to talk with a number of people who had been displaced by the violence, many of whom are living in very crowded conditions, huddled for protection in the UN compounds, which we’re very concerned about. As the rains come [they] will be partly under water,” said Lindborg. “This is one of the reasons we’re watching very closely the possibility of cholera outbreaks because the sanitation is very poor."

The US recently pledged $300 million in aid. Overall, it’s part of $600 million recently pledged by the international community. (The US has pledged a total of $433 million in humanitarian assistance to South Sudan for fiscal year 2014.)

“That is nowhere near enough,” Lindborg added. “Much more is needed.”

The money will be used to bring food, seeds and urgent medical assistance to South Sudan.

Credit: USAID

Nancy Lindborg with USAID in South Sudan.

To put 1.3 million displaced people into perspective, Lindborg said, “that’s as if everybody in Boston, plus one friend, had to flee their houses, many of whom left urban areas to go into remote, hard-to-reach rural areas. And also almost 1/2 million of those people had to go into flood-prone areas and now as the rains come, they're trapped.”

Lindborg stressed that it’s not just a humanitarian issue, but helping South Sudan is in the interest of US foreign policy as well.

“If you look across the globe, when you have failed states that are actively in conflict, you have a greater potential for all of the concerns that arrive with ungoverned space, whether it’s extremist elements or disease flows across borders, there’s very much a security interest in having stability around the world," she said. "And it also matters from a moral perspective. It matters to all of us that children in South Sudan are at risk of famine.”

But one of the problems, as with many humanitarian aid operationsin conflict zones, is that once money is pledged, it can be difficult to get supplies to people who need them. 

Lindborg is confident aid will reach people in need, arriving through NGOs and the UN. But she said the challenge will be to have the ability to use rivers, roads and airways.

“And for that we need both sides to continue to allow that to happen. We have the first barge going next week because the river has been closed due to fighting. So we’re hopeful that there’s additional access that will allow us to get out to these difficult areas,” she said.

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