From the Field

South Sudan conflict, hunger: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Decades of civil war and drought have left South Sudan one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 5.5 million South Sudanese don’t have enough food to sustain themselves, some are on the verge of famine, and food insecurity continues to rise. Since December 2013, 1.9 million people have fled the country because of conflict and hunger. Uganda now hosts more than 1 million refugees from South Sudan.

Wracked by conflict, the young nation hasn’t been able to provide its people the basics of adequate healthcare, education, and income opportunities. Children are paying the price with their lives.


History of the South Sudan conflict

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 after decades of war. The birth of the new country brought hope for a bright future. In December 2013, that hope dimmed as the country descended into conflict.

2013 — Civil war breaks out

  • December: Fighting breaks out in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. The prime minister calls it a coup attempt on the part of his vice president. Attacks spread to other areas; civilians flee.

2014 to 2015 — Families flee violence

  • January 2014: The first of many ceasefires is negotiated, declared, and quickly broken.
  • June 2014: 1.4 million people flee their homes. 4 million people — one third of the population — face critical food shortages. Fighting interrupts farming season, making food scarce and expensive.

2016 — South Sudanese seek refuge abroad

2017 — Famine declared

  • February: Famine is declared in parts of Unity state in what the U.N. calls a man-made catastrophe brought on by conflict and economic collapse.
  • May: A unilateral ceasefire is announced.
  • July: The hunger and malnutrition crisis continues, but famine conditions have improved.


World Vision’s work in South Sudan

World Vision has worked in South Sudan since 1989. We were one of very few humanitarian agencies to provide assistance during war in what was then southern Sudan. After independence in 2011, we concentrated on recovery and community development. Listen to World Vision magazine’s August 2015 special feature on South Sudan’s tattered dreams.

2013 to 2014 — Creating a lifeline for families

  • Work includes health, food security, child protection, water, and education.
  • January 2014: First food aid and household supplies delivered to families trapped by conflict at Malakal U.N. site.
  • May 2014: Relief goods and Child-Friendly Spaces are provided in three states. Nutrition programs benefit 36,000 children.

2015 — Adapting programs to address new needs

  • Since the conflict began, we’ve helped nearly 420,000 people in South Sudan with food, water, sanitation services, and household essentials such as blankets and mosquito nets. We immunize pastoralists’ cattle, provide fishing nets, and train and equip farmers.
  • June: World Vision responds to a cholera outbreak near by training faith leaders, child protection committees, child rights clubs, and state public schools on cholera prevention and management.

2016 — Aiding displaced families and refugees

  • Peacebuilding and anti-violence programs are integral to our work. World Vision helps South Sudanese who’ve fled to Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

2017 — Building bridges to better lives

  • Active hostilities prevent access to some parts of the country, hampering aid delivery. World Vision prioritizes needs of the most vulnerable: children, women, and disabled persons.


FAQs: What you need to know about the South Sudan conflict

Explore facts and FAQs about the South Sudan conflict, and learn how you can help South Sudanese refugees and displaced families:


Fast facts: What is happening in South Sudan?

  • Violent conflict in South Sudan that began in December 2013 has killed tens of thousands of people and driven nearly 4 million people from their homes.
  • About 5.5 million South Sudanese — 45 percent of the population — are in immediate need of food aid.
  • About 2 million people in South Sudan are displaced; at least half of them are children.
  • Internally displaced people live in overcrowded camps, putting a severe strain on the food, water, healthcare, shelter, and sanitation services.
  • World Vision is reaching more than 1 million people in South Sudan with food and nutrition, clean water and sanitation, household goods, education, and child protection.



How can I help the people of South Sudan?

Here are some ways you can help bring hope to South Sudanese:

  • Pray: Lift up children, families, and humanitarian workers who come to their aid.
  • Give: Help World Vision meet the most urgent needs of children and families.



What are the problems in South Sudan today?

South Sudan’s conflict has entered a new, more dangerous phase. A fragile peace agreement signed in August 2015 and subsequent transitional government have yet to eliminate fighting.

Lack of food is at a crisis level. Displaced families have been unable to farm and feed livestock. Food prices have risen significantly, and aid groups have been unable to deliver relief goods in remote, contested areas.

Conflict is the main reason behind the current crisis, including increased levels of hunger. Armed opposition groups are fighting government troops in several states.



Why was famine declared in South Sudan?

Famine was declared when the number of deaths from hunger and disease reached a certain threshold:

  • 20 percent of households the area faced extreme food shortages, with limited ability to cope.
  • More than 30 percent of children suffered from acute malnutrition.
  • Hunger caused more than two deaths each day for every 10,000 people.

On February 20, 2017, the government of South Sudan declared famine in two counties of Unity state, where there are about 100,000 people. Fortunately, quick, concerted aid delivery in South Sudan relieved famine conditions by July.

The South Sudan famine declaration was mainly due to the country’s internal conflict, which hampers aid delivery. But more than 90 percent of South Sudan’s population depends on rain-fed agriculture, and they can lose everything when the rains don’t come at the right time and quantity.



How is the South Sudan conflict affecting children?

Nearly three-quarters of South Sudan’s children are not in school, the highest proportion in the world. Extreme poverty and a history of exposure to conflict also make children vulnerable to recruitment as soldiers or help to armed groups. The U.N. children’s agency estimates that more than 17,000 children have been recruited as child armed combatants, porters, cooks, or sex slaves in the conflict since 2013.

There are also reports of sexual exploitation and abuse of children. And as violence escalates, more and more children are witnesses or victims of attacks. Listen to their stories.



On top of it all, the breakdown of the national healthcare system and low vaccination rates have given rise to measles outbreaks. Cholera and guinea worm disease are growing threats where families lack access to clean water.

Children need safety, healthy activities, opportunities to learn, and psychosocial support so they can recover from overwhelming experiences.



What is World Vision doing to help South Sudanese?

World Vision works with hundreds of thousands of children and their families who are affected by conflict, insecurity, and hunger in South Sudan. Our outreach to families includes:

  • Emergency food aid and cash transfers for families to buy food
  • Special nutrition treatment for malnourished children and for pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Support for food security and livelihoods, including seeds, training, equipment for farming, and fishing kits
  • Clean water, hygiene and sanitation training, and related supplies
  • Health center support for treating cholera
  • Child-Friendly Spaces and early childhood education for healthy play, learning, and protection
  • Support for education, including school supplies and school feeding programs
  • Humanitarian assistance to South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya.


Disaster Response

View All Stories
Tropical Storm Nate is expected to turn into a Category 1 hurricane and hit New Orleans.
From the Field

Hurricane Nate: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

A woman holds a baby in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. More than 500,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh.
From the Field

Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh: Facts, FAQs, and how to help


View All Stories
When our photographers travel, they visit some of the most generous places in the world. They’re received with hospitality and witness generosity passed on.

The most generous places in the world: In pictures

Special Features

A gift that keeps giving