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Food Insecurity Casts Shadow over South Sudan’s First Birthday

Food Insecurity Casts Shadow over South Sudan’s First Birthday


By Paul O’Brien, Overseas Director, Concern Worldwide

On July 9th, the Republic of South Sudan will celebrate its first Independence Day since its secession from the Republic of Sudan in 2011. I recently traveled first to Juba, the capital, and then to the Aweil West and Aweil North areas of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state — a region bordering the Republic of Sudan where a staggering 800,000 people live below the poverty line.

In this region, malnutrition rates rise and fall along with the levels of food available pre- and post-harvest. In Aweil West, for instance, fluctuations in child malnutrition rates from harvest to the ‘lean season’ — the time preceding the harvest when food supplies are at their lowest—doubled from 12 percent to 26 percent in November 2011. Given that a rate of 15 percent is considered to be at emergency-level, it is clear that communities in South Sudan are constantly confronting food insecurity, even in times of what they consider to be ‘plenty.’

On traveling to one market, I met a woman who told me that they had seen a three-fold increase in prices for their staple food, dura (sorghum). People are eating less food, less often. The food that was available lacked variety — vegetables were few and far between with the exception of a few small onions. Many of the vegetables were imported. Because they are such a vital source of vitamins and minerals, vegetables, or rather not having vegetables, can have a profound impact on the health and well-being of children.

South Sudan is one of the least developed countries in the world and has little or no infrastructure. To put this in perspective, there are currently less than 75 miles of paved road in the country, which is roughly the size of Texas. Where there is road, it is made of dirt and when the rain comes, 60 percent of them become impassable. Many communities are simply cut off, making key foods harder and more expensive to source. For these communities, importing food is impossible during the rainy season.

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 4.7 million people — half of the population of South Sudan — will be threatened by food insecurity in 2012. One million of these people will be severely affected. Concern Worldwide is providing life-saving nutrition and primary health care services, as well as livelihood activities that work to foster both food and economic security. To bolster food production, Concern works with communities to improve their farming practices, from using donkeys to increase productivity, to following techniques that prevent crop loss, to ensuring that livestock stay healthy through regular vaccinations, amongst other services. We also distribute seeds to women’s groups so that they can start small vegetable gardens to feed and support their families while earning a small income from selling surplus in local markets.

I was lucky to see some of these gardens first-hand. The women I met were successfully growing tomatoes, cabbage (or sucamawiki, as they call it) and okra. After visiting the gardens, I spoke with about 100 women underneath a very large tree about how the gardens had impacted their lives. Most were cooking the vegetables for their families and selling any surplus for income. One woman told me that her children were no longer as sick as they had been in previous times. This statement strikes at the heart of why nutrition, particularly during early childhood, is so critical. Having greater diversity in her diet was leading to better health for her children.

Despite the progress made by these gardens and other initiatives, the harsh reality is that South Sudan is a country starting at an incredible disadvantage. Instead of facing the task of rebuilding their country, as many new nations do, they must start completely from scratch. The scale of the task at hand is evident in the extreme distances you have to travel between one place and the next, and the fact that only 50 percent of children are in school, and in the stunning statistic that a 15-year-old girl is more likely to die in child birth than finish school in South Sudan.

Despite a relatively calm, ordered and diplomatically-achieved independence, outstanding challenges and disputes between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan remain. We have seen massive population migrations — the biggest peacetime movements of people since World War II — as South Sudanese return home to their nascent country after years living not just in the Republic of Sudan, but also in the United States, Europe and other parts of the globe. More than 375,000 are expected to have returned to South Sudan from October 2010 to May 2012, according to OCHA. In many cases, the return home has been planned and gradual but for many others, conflict on the border has forced them to flee to South Sudan.

On top of food insecurity, South Sudan must contend with the long shadow these conflicts cast while the world holds its breath to see if they will slide back into war with the Republic of Sudan. For humanitarian organizations, our main concern is having access to those in need so we are able to assist communities on both sides of the border caught in disputed areas.

The scale and breadth of the needs are already distressing.

We saw a dramatic increase in the movement of refugees from Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile (in the Republic of Sudan) to Upper Nile and Unity States in South Sudan in May. The refugee population in Yida camp in Unity State has swollen to more than 35,000 people, bringing the number of people who have fled from Upper Nile state alone to 80,000.

If war breaks out between South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan, fewer resources will be available to make the necessary investments that will allow the South Sudanese people to lead fruitful, rewarding lives — above the poverty line and food secure — in the new Republic of South Sudan.

Looking back at my recent trip, I am heartened by the commitment that so many of the South Sudanese have to their country. It is my hope that this passion and commitment for South Sudan will translate into the right investments — ones that boost its economy, build its infrastructure and break the cycle of poverty for its people.

About Concern Worldwide
Concern Worldwide is an international, non-governmental humanitarian organization dedicated to reducing extreme poverty, with more than 3,200 personnel working in 25 of the poorest countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Concern Worldwide targets the root causes of extreme poverty through programs in health, education, livelihoods and microfinance, HIV and AIDS, and emergency response, directly reaching more than 8.5 million people. To learn more, visit, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.


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3:58PM PDT on Jun 15, 2012

What a stupendous organization of people!

6:33AM PDT on Jun 15, 2012


5:46AM PDT on Jun 14, 2012

One side of the world starves while the other side drives around in SUVs from big box store to big box store.

9:17AM PDT on Jun 13, 2012

Very disturbing.

7:30AM PDT on Jun 13, 2012

Sarah M., the answer to your question is as follows: Of the world's 7 billion people nearly 2 billion live in social, economic, and political isolation in the nations in which they reside ...and the leaders of these nations generally hold power via corrupt means or force of arms. In these types of situations, governments seldom care if the poor and starving live or die. In the case of Sudan, the brown Muslims in power would like to eliminate the black atheists/ Christians of South Sudan by whatever means possible. Since I can't change the politics or end the hatred, I try to do what I can to reduce the suffering. You are correct in indicating that our world is lacking in caring, effective leaders who care for all. Once we all share poverty and misery, and that may happen sooner than later, effective leaders will emerge.

6:56AM PDT on Jun 13, 2012

Esperamos que o governo do sul do Sudão aranje soluções para a sua agricultora para que a suas populações possa sair da pobresa

4:32AM PDT on Jun 13, 2012

David N - why do you know this and it not in use/implemented by governments of starving nations?

Where there is no will, there is no way ... as being evidenced again in the preliminary talks prior to Rio. Their will is prevented by self greed, elections, corruption, laziness, stupidity, limited intelligence, narrow vision ...... and an 'I'm alright jack' personally formula!

So until there are more leaders suffering than sitting happy then there will be no changes for the betterment of our beleaguered world., in politics, environment, farming .......

3:37PM PDT on Jun 12, 2012

If local populations can be instructed in the making and use of bioactivated biochar they can more than double crop yields on gardens & fields. Our charity, NPI, is successfully using such an approach in developing nations w/ food insecurity. Simple kilns can be constructed to use pyrolysis to convert woody waste & brush into biochar. The biochar then needs to be crushed and soaked for a day in a manure effluent "tea" w/ small quantities of soil & organic compost added to provide soil microbes. When soaking is complete, the bioactivated biochar is mixed with garden/ field soils w/ the mix being about 10 percent biochar. In arid regions, micro-drip irrigation should be somehow provided to further increase crop yields.

12:02PM PDT on Jun 12, 2012


11:23AM PDT on Jun 12, 2012

Go Concern Worldwide!!!

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