South Sudan: Conflict, hunger, and the threats to children

In part of north central South Sudan’s Unity state, 100,000 people face imminent starvation as the U.N. declares a famine in the region in February 2017.  A million more people are on the brink of famine, while close to half of the country’s population continues to struggle with conflict-induced food shortages.

“The situation facing children who were already hungry and going without meals is now rapidly unraveling,” says Perry Mansfield, World Vision’s director in South Sudan. “If aid funding and deliveries are not immediately scaled up, we should expect to see children facing a catastrophe, and starvation and migration to find food on a massive scale.”

Famine is declared only when a substantial number of deaths have occurred due to lack of food on its own or in combination with disease.

The food crisis compounds an already unbearable situation for countless families. From July 2016 to January 2017, the South Sudanese refugee population fleeing to Uganda more than tripled as fighting flared up and forced people from their homes. Uganda now hosts more than 700,000 refugees from South Sudan.

Fast facts

  • Violent conflict in South Sudan has killed tens of thousands and driven more than 3.3 million people from their homes.
  • About 1.9 million people in South Sudan are displaced; half of them are children.
  • About 1.4 million have fled to neighboring countries, such as Uganda.
  • Some 4.1 million South Sudanese, 37 percent of the population, are in immediate need of food aid.
  • Internally displaced people live in overcrowded camps, putting a severe strain on the food, water, healthcare, shelter, and sanitation services available.
  • In 2015, World Vision assisted 1.3 million people in South Sudan with food and nutrition, clean water and sanitation, household goods, education, and child protection.
South Sudan Map

A country in crisis

South Sudan’s conflict has entered a new, more dangerous phase. Since December 2013, tens of thousands of people have died, and about 3.3 million South Sudanese have been driven from their homes.

About 1.9 million people are displaced within the country, including more than 200,000 civilians who have sought shelter in U.N. bases. A fragile peace agreement signed in August 2015 and subsequent transitional government have yet to eliminate fighting.

The most recent analysis of food security shows that for 4.1 million people in South Sudan, 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.

Nutrition and food assistance are pillars of World Vision’s humanitarian work in South Sudan. We have reached more than 940,000 people with aid since the conflict began in December 2013.

As violence escalates, more and more children are witnesses or victims of attacks. With school and home life disrupted, children are also vulnerable to armed recruitment by government or militia forces. Listen to their stories.

What is life like for people displaced by the conflict?

Fearful of further attacks, many internally displaced people live in overcrowded camps. More than 200,000 people have sought protection in U.N.-controlled settlements; 61 percent of that number are children. Displaced families depend on organizations like World Vision for food, shelter, water, sanitation services, and healthcare.

More than 1.4 million South Sudanese live in refugee camps in neighboring countries. So far, relief agencies have received less than 10 percent of the funding they need to meet refugees’ needs.

What other threats are children facing?

Many children can’t go to school, and there is little for them to do in displacement camps. Extreme poverty and a history of exposure to conflict make children vulnerable to recruitment as soldiers. The U.N. children’s agency estimates that 15,000 to 16,000 children have been recruited as child soldiers in the conflict.

There are also reports of sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

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.

A refugee girl in an IDP camp in South Sudan
A girl peers out of her shelter at the Adany camp for internally displaced people in Twic County, Warrap State, South Sudan. (©2015 Jon Warren/World Vision)

Why is hunger a growing problem in South Sudan?

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

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.

How is World Vision responding to the crisis in South Sudan?

In 2015, 1.3 million South Sudanese, including more than 630,000 children, benefited from World Vision aid, which includes:

  • Emergency food supplies for families
  • Special nutrition treatment for malnourished children and for pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Support for food security and livelihoods, including seeds, training, livestock, and livestock vaccinations
  • Clean water, hygiene kits, sanitation facilities, and training on cholera prevention
  • Shelter items, mosquito nets, blankets, and other household goods
  • Child-Friendly Spaces for healthy play, learning, protection, and activities that help children avoid recruitment into armed groups
  • Family tracing and reunification for unaccompanied children
  • We also provide assistance to South Sudan refugees in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya.

Help children affected by conflict in South Sudan.

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