Last week the United Nations declared a famine in parts of South Sudan – the first declaration of famine in six years.
The UN says that famine is a technical term, one that is not used lightly. And it is when people have already begun dying of hunger.
A famine can only be declared when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. These are: when at least 20% of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; when acute malnutrition rates exceed 30%; and when and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
Other factors that may be considered include large-scale displacement, widespread destitution, disease outbreaks and social collapse.
The UN says that 100,000 people are facing starvation in South Sudan and another one million are classified as being on the brink of famine, with 4.9 million people, or 40 percent of the South Sudanese population “in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.”
There is a consensus on the cause of the South Sudan food crisis and it is that it has been caused by conflict. The country has been at war since 2013.
World Food Program country director Joyce Luma explained that the South Sudanese are mostly farmers and the war has not allowed them to plant and caused the loss of livestock and farming tools. They have subsisted on wild plants and fish or game they can catch, but those resources are running out or they have lost access to them.
Serge Tissot, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization representative in South Sudan said, “Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive.”
Some have said that President Salva Kiir’s government has been blocking food aid to certain areas and there have been reports of attacks and looting of humanitarian convoys and warehouses by government and rebel forces.
The government denies the charges and President Kiir has now promised “that all humanitarian and development organizations have unimpeded access to needy populations across the country.”
But no one has committed to stop fighting.