From the Field

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

Decades of civil war before South Sudan became a nation and continuing to the present have left it one of the poorest countries in the world. 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.

More than 5.7 million South Sudanese don’t have enough food to sustain themselves, and food insecurity continues to rise, likely reaching 6 million mid-2018. Nearly 4 million people are displaced because of conflict and hunger, including 2 million who have fled to neighboring countries since December 2013. Uganda hosts more than 1 million refugees from South Sudan; 60 percent of the displaced are children.

In February, World Vision accepted the first 250 of nearly 700 child soldiers and other children who have been associated with armed groups in South Sudan into a program to ease their transition to civilian life. Caseworkers will help them recover from the violence they’ve seen and experienced, so they can peacefully rejoin their families and communities.

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 conflict broke out.

2013 — Civil war

  • December: Fighting breaks out in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. President Salva Kiir calls it a coup attempt on the part of his vice president, Riek Machar. 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 — Fighting and famine

  • 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.
  • August: The number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda surpasses 1 million.

2018 — Seeking political solutions

  • April: Terms expire for both the transitional government and the president’s office.
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FAQs: What you need to know about the South Sudan conflict

Explore frequently asked questions 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 5.7 million South Sudanese — 56 percent of the population — are in immediate need of food aid.
  • About 4 million people in South Sudan are displaced, including 2 million who left for neighboring countries; roughly 60 percent 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.


Is there famine in South Sudan?

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.

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.

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


How is the South Sudan conflict affecting children?

Seventy percent 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  19,000 children have served as child armed combatants or support staff in the conflict since 2013. 

Girls are most often recruited for domestic work. They frequently experience sexual violence and can be forcibly married. As violence escalates, more and more children are witnesses or victims of attacks. Listen to their stories.


The breakdown of the national healthcare system and low vaccination rates have given rise to measles outbreaks. Cholera is a threat where families lack access to clean water and sanitation; the disease sickened more than 21,000 people and killed 4,000 from the start of the latest outbreak in June 2016 through the end of 2017.

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.


World Vision’s work in South Sudan

World Vision has worked in South Sudan since 1989. We were one of 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 Juba 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

  • By the end of 2016, nearly 1 million South Sudanese had benefitted from our World Vision’s provision of food, water, sanitation, screening and treatment of malnutrition, support for livelihoods, and education. Child protection, peacebuilding, and anti-violence programs are integral to our work. World Vision helps South Sudanese who’ve fled to Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

2017 — Fighting hunger and malnutrition

  • During 2017, World Vision assisted 1.2 million people with healthcare; 822,752 with food security and livelihoods; 384,424 with water, sanitation, and hygiene; 142,911 with household items; 214,677 with nutrition; and 91,911 with child protection and education activities.

2018 — Building bridges to better lives

  • World Vision begins a UNICEF-funded program to help nearly 700 children who have served with militias to reunite with their families and return to education.


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