By Liam Nolan, STAND Canada Blog Writer

The United Nations has declared that South Sudan has an impending risk of famine, marking the first time that a country has faced this sort of catastrophe in six years. Approximately 5.5 million people are at risk of not having a reliable food source by July. People fleeing the country’s ongoing civil war have been surviving on water lilies, wild honey, and weeds. By all accounts, the famine is a result of the civil war that has engulfed the country since 2013.  

The ethnic violence that has defined this civil war has forced many people into untenable situations, living along the Nile River with little access to food or jobs from which to get money to buy food.  This violence has had dire consequences for agriculture. There’s an indication that government forces have been responsible for some of this damage, with people reporting that “men in uniforms” have been harassing villages and destroying their food supplies. In addition to the civil war, inflation in the country last year topped 800%, making it quite difficult even for those working to afford food.

The situation bears an alarming resemblance to Somalia six years ago, where many political factors contributed to the nation’s worsening food crisis and ultimately to famine being declared. During that crisis, approximately 260,000 people died. While Al-Shabab’s rocky relationship with Western nations contributed to the worsening of the Somali famine, there are no signs that South Sudan’s government will take the same steps to block out foreign aid that Somalia took. Provided no forces block or impede aid going to the affected areas, accepting international aid will certainly help dampen some of the damage of any famine.

However, there’s a distinct possibility that the funding that the UN desperately needs in order to ameliorate the impending disaster won’t come through. During a joint press conference, Secretary-General António Guterres mentioned that the demand for humanitarian aid is growing faster than available resources. This is becoming a problem globally. Aid groups are already struggling for resources to address the crisis in Syria, which is taxing on international resources.

Several countries neighbouring South Sudan are also at risk of famine. Without this funding, it will be much harder to prevent a worst case scenario from playing out. The UN has said that it will need approximately $4.4 billion dollars by the end of March to help the affected nations. Currently, it has raised $90 million. Secretary-General Guterres has called these numbers “very worrying” and said the lives of millions of people depend on our collective ability to act”.

In the affected areas, almost 1.4 million children are now at risk of death, with many more at risk of malnutrition. Malnutrition has deep, lasting effects, and stymies the intellectual growth of children in irreparable ways, meaning that famine has generational implications for a country’s future and the potential of its youth and young people. There are also indications that environmental scarcity can aggravate existing conflicts, which means that there’s a realistic chance that the situation in  South Sudan could get worse, resulting in an even greater loss of life.

While at this point there’s no averting tragedy in South Sudan, its impact can be lessened by putting pressure on your MPs and political leaders to make sure that aid is properly getting through to the country. Doing so could help offset what many fear may be the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has seen since the founding of the UN.

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