South Sudan: what’s next for the country of humanitarian crises?

General scenes of the countryside in the Aweil area of South Sudan. Concern runs nutrition clinics and mobile Health clinics and Targeted Supplementary Feeding Programs in these areas. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Concern Worldwide
General scenes of the countryside in the Aweil area of South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith

South Sudan is the world’s newest country, gaining independence in 2011. But, in just nine years, it’s already suffered a lifetime’s worth of crises, leaving it one of the world’s hungriest and most vulnerable countries – with 61% of the population lacking sufficient access to food. 

From conflict to climate change to a mounting invasion of locusts, what’s next for South Sudan?

Relentless conflict and upturned roots

Conflict has plagued South Sudan since it gained independence in 2011. Over two million South Sudanese people have fled into neighbouring countries such as the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. An additional 1.74 million people remain displaced inside the country.

When the fighting started, civilians looked for protection and refuge at existing United Nations bases. These have since become Protection of Civilian camps, or POCs. While these camps offer safety from the fighting, they are perilous in other ways. Camps initially built to house people for no more than 72 hours have become people’s homes for over seven years. Conditions are dire; sanitation is appalling, food is scarce, opportunities to earn a living are non-existent, disease is rife, and hunger is constant.

Some families are choosing to return home once it has become safe. But they often come back to nothing – livestock have died or have been stolen, their once carefully tended fields have been laid to ruin, and any crops that had previously been planted have long since died. Having already lost everything, they have no resources left to start again.

Nyahou, a young IDP living in Bentiu's PoC comes back from gathering firewood outside of the protection of the site. Photo: Steve de Neef
Nyahou, a young IDP living in Bentiu's PoC comes back from gathering firewood outside of the protection of the site. Photo: Steve de Neef
Two brothers, Nasil* and Gatlit* live in one small room with their children. Photo: Abbie Taylor-Smith
Brothers Nasil* and Gatlit* live in one small room with their children. Photo: Abbie Taylor-Smith
Leylo* at her home, who is a member of a nutrition programme in Aweil. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Leylo* at her home, who is a member of a nutrition programme in Aweil. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
The edge of the PoC in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Steve De Neef
The edge of the PoC in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Steve De Neef
Khadra* and her baby girl Akon* relax in the mother and baby room at the Concern Worldwide Nutrition Clinic in a POC in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Khadra* and her baby Akon* relax in the mother and baby room in a POC. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith

Conflict, followed by drought, followed by floods

In addition to fighting, South Sudan has also suffered from severe climate shocks, increasing the threat of hunger considerably. In early 2019, parts of the country were hit by drought, followed by widespread flooding in July. The flooding affected close to one million people -destroying houses, crops and livelihoods.

This means that even when a family is able to plant their fields, floods come and wash away their crops, leaving them no harvest for the following year. For families living so precariously, one poor harvest can be disastrous – in South Sudan, they face watching their livelihoods and the only way of feeding their children repeatedly washed away.

Those who managed to survive the conflict found they had a new enemy to fight: the deadly climate. Yet the life-threatening challenges didn’t stop there.

The final straw

Now, just months later, swarms of desert locusts, which have been destroying crops across East Africa, have crossed the border into South Sudan. For a country already reeling from widespread hunger thanks to conflict and climate shocks, this is a disaster.

The potential for destruction from the locust swarms is enormous. Desert locusts can travel up to 95 miles in a day and eat their own body weight in greenery. A swarm just one-kilometre square can eat as much food as 35,000 people in a day, according to the United Nations. The invasion is worsening food shortages, in an already extremely fragile situation - and the main March-to-May cropping season is now at risk.

Concern Nutrition Assistant Simon is pictured leading a clinic session at a health clinic in South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Nutrition Assistant Simon is pictured leading a clinic session. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Image shows women collecting food rations from a Concern Worldwide and World Vision food distribution in the Aweil area, South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Image shows women collecting food rations from a Concern Worldwide and World Vision food distribution in the Aweil area, South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
William Diang, Asisstant Programme Officer checks over Myaboth* and baby Makur* at the Concern Worldwide nutrition clinics in a PoC in Juba South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
William checks over baby Makur* at a nutrition clinic in a PoC in Juba. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Concern staff work tirelessly at a nutrition clinic in South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Concern staff work tirelessly at a nutrition clinic in South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
The Majok Mother Care Group photographed in an area of Aweil, South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
The Majok Mother Care Group photographed in an area of South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith

What’s next for South Sudan?

Multiple and interlinked causes have worsened the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan including conflict, severe economic decline, diseases, climatic shocks, and now locusts. Without support, South Sudan could slip into deeper trouble, leaving even more people without food.

Concern will continue to respond in South Sudan, to prevent and treat acute malnutrition among the most vulnerable groups such as under-five children, and pregnant and lactating mothers, and provide cash for work, seed distributions and planting services. Will you help?

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