From the Field

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

A World Vision staff member screens a child for malnutrition Feb. 23 at a health facility in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. The red on the band indicates the child is dangerously malnourished. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Rose Ogola)

More than 5.5 million people in South Sudan are severely food insecure, and the numbers continue to rise. The East Africa food crisis compounds an already unbearable situation for countless families. Since December 2013, 1.9 million South Sudanese have fled the country because of conflict and hunger. Uganda now hosts about 950,000 refugees from South Sudan.

“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 was declared in February in two counties of Unity state, but quick, concerted humanitarian action has turned back that worst-case scenario. Famine is declared only when a substantial number of deaths have occurred due to lack of food on its own or in combination with a disease.


Fast facts

  • 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.

South Sudan Map


Facing hunger and fear

South Sudan’s conflict has entered a new, more dangerous phase. Since December 2013, tens of thousands of people have died, and nearly 4 million South Sudanese have been driven from their homes.

About 2 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 5.5 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.

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


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.


What threats are children facing?

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. The U.N. children’s agency estimates that 15,000 to 17,000 children have been recruited as child soldiers in the conflict.

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

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.


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

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.


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