Extreme hunger in South Sudan

The leading food security consortium, the IPC Global Partnership, says there is “a really dire, perhaps borderline famine situation” in parts of Unity State in South Sudan.

The situation is likely to deteriorate, it states. However, a lack of information makes it impossible to say whether the situation meets the IPC’s technical definition of a famine – an important, and emotive, signal. Given large-scale conflict and displacement, and underlying fragility, the possibility has been under review for months

Figures arrived at towards the end of last year (graphic below) may already be out of date. On the IPC five-point scale, the latest official report estimates that 40,000 people in South Sudan’s Unity State may be living at level five – the worst possible condition. A declaration of famine would need to be backed by more context and data, according to the IPC group. 

Those figures were arrived at by a South Sudan food security working group that includes the government.

“South Sudan is in total freefall and the world doesn’t care because South Sudanese refugees are not washing up on the shores of Europe” – senior aid worker

But differences are emerging between experts attached to the international IPC partnership and the in-country group.

A technical paper from the IPC Emergency Review Committee released on 10 February concluded that there was “a really dire, perhaps borderline famine situation” in parts of Unity State but that “the limited and less than reliable evidence available” remained insufficient to make a determination.

In a carefully-worded passage, the committee suggested that insecurity was not the only reason sound data had not been collected, hinting at a lack of political will on the part of local authorities: “The ERC adds a note of concern that there ‘appears’ to be a lack of urgency or prioritization placed on effectively assessing the severity of the food security situation in the conflict affected areas and there may not be sufficient high level engagement to gain access to these areas.”

In the meantime, the public estimates stay as they are: 40,000 people in Unity State are thought to be in a “catastrophic” state, in addition to some 2.79 million people in a “crisis” or “emergency” state.