South Sudan: Three desperate years of empty stomachs and massive violence

Three years after conflict broke out in South Sudan on December 15, the country is on the brink of famine with people barely surviving on minuscule resources, warns aid agency CARE International.

In July this year, the conflict spread throughout the entire country.

“Previously rather peaceful areas have now plunged into violence, leaving fields abandoned, houses burnt, assets looted,” says Fred McCray, CARE’s country director in South Sudan. “Traditionally the ‘green belt’ of South Sudan, the Greater Equatoria region is now showing catastrophic signs of malnutrition. Seeds and tools have been destroyed or looted and famers are too scared to plough their fields or selling products at the markets given the on-going fighting. Many people have fled their homes, leaving productive lands fallow.”

The violence pushes people to resort to desperate measures of survival.

“Following the hunger crisis, we recently lost six family members in my neighborhood after consuming immature cassava roots and leaves,” a hospital administrator informs CARE staff during an assessment mission. Women are reducing the frequency of breastfeeding as they do not have enough nutritious food intake.

“This is highly alarming. Scientific research shows that insufficient nutrition in the first years of a child’s life will result in physical, cognitive and mental stunting. The children of South Sudan will be marked for the rest of their lives,” McCray warns.

The high inflation rate and increasing food prices are mutually reinforcing the conflict. Cereal prices have risen by more than 500 per cent over the past year.

“It is an utterly vicious cycle: crime rates, especially in urban areas have increased as people lack food and the means to buy it. This, and the prolonged fighting prevents traders from bringing their goods into the country, which further raises prices and the cost of living,” explains Fred McCray.

According to McCray, “this desolate state of survival has become the new normal for millions of families in South Sudan.”

Almost five million people are in emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, just one or two thresholds away from the official famine scale. Overall, more than six million people, over half the population, depend on humanitarian assistance – in a country blessed with vast tracts of arable land, a water source in the Nile river, a perfect climate for growing a wide range of crops, and the human resources to tend them.

CARE has distributed food and essential relief supplies such as plastic sheets, jerry cans, kitchen sets, blankets, clothes and soap in Eastern Equatoria after conflict spread across the state in July. CARE also supports farmer communities with seeds, tools and training and helped to establish village savings and loan associations allowing people access to an alternative source of capital and a means of saving as formal banking systems have shut down in many areas.

Since the crisis began in 2013, CARE has assisted over 300,000 people across four states, reaching families with food, livelihoods and health support, preventing gender-based violence and working to build peace.

“However, without a stop in fighting we can only apply a band aid to a chronically sick patient. We call on all parties to the conflict to stop targeting civilians and hold true to their commitments under the peace deal signed in August last year,” says McCray.


CARE has spokespeople available in South Sudan. Contact:

Darcy Knoll
Communications Specialist | CARE Canada | 613.790.2134