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Unchecked violence leads to second Famine in four years

  • Alert
  • South Sudan
  • December 22, 2020
Unchecked violence leads to second Famine in four years

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Famine is Likely (IPC Phase 5)[i] occurring in Pibor county in eastern South Sudan (Figure 1). Available evidence indicates a significant proportion of the population is currently facing very large food consumption gaps and extremely high levels of acute malnutrition. Data on mortality is unavailable, but high levels of hunger-related mortality are likely already occurring or will imminently occur if humanitarian assistance is not delivered immediately. While a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) has persisted in South Sudan since 2014, Pibor faced unprecedented levels of violence in 2020 and consecutive years of severe floods in 2019 and 2020. Overall, FEWS NET estimates 6 to 8 million people in South Sudan will be in need of humanitarian food assistance monthly through mid-2021. Roughly 50,000 to 75,000 of these people are expected to be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5),[ii] and at least 33,000 of them are located in Pibor. An immediate and significant scale-up of humanitarian food assistance delivery is needed to save lives. In addition, the considerable access constraints faced by humanitarians in Pibor must be resolved. As South Sudan faces its second Famine in four years, an end to the ongoing violence is ultimately needed to alleviate the extreme levels of hunger that have persisted throughout much of South Sudan’s independence.

Following multiple compounding shocks, including exceptionally high levels of violence, many households in Pibor are estimated to have lost access to more than half of their annual sources of food and cash income. At the same time, insecurity- and flood-related logistic constraints have led to repeated disruptions to food assistance deliveries. Only 20 percent of households report owning any livestock, reflecting an extreme decline in livestock ownership for a traditionally agropastoral livelihood zone. In addition, only 40 percent of households planted crops this year, as many fled the area due to conflict that occurred in June, just as the planting season was beginning. Conflict and floods have also limited households’ ability to seek wild foods, sell natural resources for income to purchase food, and access markets. The retail price of a malwa (3.5 kg) of sorghum — a key staple food — has been 2,000 SSP in Pibor since October, compared to a five-year average of 510 SSP across Jonglei state.[iii] According to WFP’s distribution reports, no food assistance was delivered to Pibor in June, July, or September, and only 20 percent of the population received assistance in October.

In Pibor, the proportion of the population facing extreme food consumption gaps and the Global Acute Malnutrition prevalence have surpassed the Famine thresholds, according to data on food consumption and livelihood coping collected through the Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring System in October, and data on nutrition obtained through an exhaustive acute malnutrition screening in November. Based on these survey results and additional contributing factor evidence on food security conditions in Pibor, FEWS NET analysts have determined Famine is Likely (IPC Phase 5) occurring in Pibor. While populations of greatest concern are in the western payams of Pibor, ground information suggests some populations in the eastern payams are also experiencing very large food consumption gaps. Although data on mortality is not available, high levels of hunger-related mortality are likely due to large gaps in food consumption and high levels of acute malnutrition.

FEWS NET anticipates that Famine is Likely (IPC Phase 5) to persist in Pibor through at least mid-2021 if large-scale food assistance is not delivered and sustained. A resurgence in conflict and insecurity is anticipated as the November to May dry season progresses, and levels of violence in 2021 are expected to be similar to the past year in the absence of any intervention. Households have few own-produced food sources, and conflict is likely to continue to forcefully displace households and impede their access to fishing, hunting, and wild food gathering grounds. Conflict and insecurity are also likely to continue to suppress market functioning and trade flows, while food prices will most likely remain exorbitantly high amid the macroeconomic crisis. As a result, household food consumption gaps are expected to remain severe, and an increasing number of households will exhaust their ability to cope. Furthermore, information from WFP suggests an increased likelihood that food assistance distributions plans, which aim to reach at least 20 percent of the Pibor population every month, will not be implemented in full due to threats of attack, protection concerns, and logistic constraints around prepositioning and ground and air deliveries.

Outside of Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor, severe levels of acute food insecurity are also widespread across much of South Sudan. Nationally, FEWS NET anticipates that up to 8 million people — more than 60 percent of the population – will be in need of food assistance during the May to August 2021 lean season. At the household level, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) will be possible in some areas — including Akobo, Aweil South, and greater Tonj counties — if planned food assistance is delayed or disrupted. Although humanitarian response plans indicate funded food assistance is likely to reach up to 20 percent of the national population during this period, a sizeable gap remains. Because the underlying causes of the already high levels of food insecurity are likely to persist into 2021, there is a risk that Famine (IPC Phase 5) could occur in additional areas of South Sudan if an additional shock were to isolate households from food sources for a prolonged period of time. A significant scale-up in food assistance in Pibor and the rest of South Sudan, as well as guaranteed humanitarian access, is necessary. Ultimately, a sustainable resolution to conflict and an end to the ongoing violence is urgently needed to save lives.


[i] Famine (IPC Phase 5) and Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) classifications are used to describe the same conditions. The classification Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) signifies that while information is insufficient to confirm or deny whether all three thresholds that define a Famine declaration have been met, available evidence suggests two of the three thresholds have been surpassed and that Famine is likely ongoing.

[ii] The IPC classifies acute food insecurity at the household level and area level. At the household level, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) occurs when a household group has an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs even after full employment of coping strategies. At the area level, Famine (IPC Phase 5) occurs when at least 20 percent of the households in a given area have an extreme lack of food; the Global Acute Malnutrition prevalence, as measured by weight-for-height z-score, exceeds 30 percent; and mortality, as measured by the Crude Death Rate (CDR), is greater than 2 per 10,000 per day.

[iii] Price data is unavailable in Pibor prior to 2020.

Figures Map of South Sudan showing FEWS NET’s projection of food security outcomes, December 2020 – January 2021

Figure 1

Figure 1

Source: FEWS NET

FEWS NET will publish an Alert to highlight a current or anticipated shock expected to drive a sharp deterioration in food security, such that a humanitarian food assistance response is imminently needed.

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