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Welcome to the conversation, where we discuss global news and share our views, insights and expertise.

Famine… What Famine?

Blandine Sixdenier
Blandine Sixdenier | June 29, 2017

What you need to know about the ongoing food crisis in South Sudan

On the 20th February 2017, famine was declared in two counties of the Unity State in central South Sudan. This was the first time a famine had been declared globally since 2011, and was brought on as a result of the country’s ongoing conflict, and to a lesser extent drought. Over 100,000 people faced starvation and a further one million were at risk of starvation.

Four months later, on the 21st June 2017, a UN backed report stated South Sudan was no longer classified as experiencing famine. This apparent turn in fortunes is, in no small part, down to the brilliant and arduous work done by aid workers in the Mayendit and Leer counties.

Despite the undoubted positives, the declassification of the famine in South Sudan must not overshadow the fact that the national food crisis is getting worse. From May to June alone, food insecurity rose from 5.5 million people to 6 million people, or roughly half the population. Since the first declaration of the famine the numbers of people facing starvation has nearly doubled to 1.7 million. In the same period, severe malnourishment in children rose from 250,000 to 276,000. Currently, 45,000 people live in “famine like” conditions in the Unity State (25,000) and Jonglei State (20,000).  

So… What is famine (technically)?

Determining famine, and the preceding stages of food insecurity, is essentially a statistical calculation, with extremely fine margins in the case of South Sudan.

The IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) have five distinct phases of food insecurity, going from Phase 1 Minimal to Phase 5 Famine. In order for a Phase 5 Famine status to be classified evidence must exist to show a prevalence of acute malnutrition exceeding 30% of the population, at least 20% of households facing a complete lack of food, and mortality rate exceeding 2 deaths per 10,000 per day due to starvation. Only when all three criteria are met will the IPC classify a “rare and extreme” Phase 5 Famine.

Due to the complexity of the classification, challenges faced by aid workers to collect data and distribute food, and the ever-changing situation on the ground, it is likely that parts of South Sudan will experience famine again in the not too distant future, and the national food crisis will continue to get worse.

Photo credits from top to bottom:

Tim Freccia / Enough Project
UN Photo / JC McIlwaine
UN Photo / JC McIlwaine
Lona Kiden

Deadly Kabul explosions felt for thousands of miles

Rahila Muhibi
Rahila Muhibi | June 2, 2017

iguacu’s Lead Researcher for Afghanistan Rahila Muhibi penned a personal note following Wednesday’s deadly explosions in Kabul in which, she has since learned, 11 members of her extended family and the families of her friends were killed.

Like so many Afghans living abroad, we stay connected with Afghanistan; for some that special bond is out of love of country, nostalgia, family members, or a combination of all three. Luckily I am in a profession that allows me to remain connected to home by daily monitoring of the situation in Afghanistan. As I woke up in London on Wednesday, 3500 miles from Kabul, and was getting ready to go to work, I saw a flood of social media alerts. So many family members, relatives and close friends were posting about the deadly explosion at the city centre of Kabul, killing 90 and injuring some 400.

At once, a very familiar feeling ran through me, a feeling I know so well now. When Taliban attacked an army base in Mazar-e Sharif in April, where I knew many people working there at the time, I felt the same rush of fear, worry and hope, and a wall of questions of what, who, where and why, all at once. As well as when the so-called Islamic State targeted peaceful protestors and all the other recent major attacks.

It was clear at the first instant this Kabul blast was not the usual daily explosion. As many times before, I first called family members I knew were working near the area. I was both desperate to know whether they were safe, and at the same time felt a dreadful reluctance to call, fearing their loss. I found my sister was safe, my nephew was unreachable but later found safe, my brother was devastated from the sound of it but reassured me he was alright. He was at the emergency site when I called, helping friends. My brother-in-law was also helping at the scene. Out of panic, I pleaded with them all to next time, please avoid all the major routes where attacks happen. I used to keep track of this information and now have lost track of it. Deep down, at the same time I said those words, I knew they could not avoid danger in such an extremely unsafe environment.

As the day unfolded, I found out at least eleven people from my close circle, including extended family and the families of friends, were killed, and so many other friends were directly affected. With an extreme helplessness, I turned to social media and other news outlets to find out more. I found the shock of the attack was felt everywhere in Kabul and everyone was affected. It felt as though the young professionals, the breadwinners and the core of Kabul were all targeted.

The images surfacing on social media were some of the most heart-wrenching, with some people feeling grateful they were alive, and others in despair with reactions of: “we live in a place where to live is accidental and to die is normal”. Then, I stumbled upon the feeling of joy when family members found each other safe, of people giving blood, and of civilians carrying the wounded on their backs. I found humanity again in the midst of a barbaric and inhumane act. This hope, this humanity, will help me eventually to move on, once again. It will help the people of Kabul to move on, and it will help us all to move on.

No matter what happens, we will remain humane.

South Sudan: when it rains, it pours

Blandine Sixdenier
Blandine Sixdenier | April 26, 2017

South Sudan is in the midst of the first famine declared in the world since 2011. Brought on as a result of conflict and drought, more than 100,000 people face starvation and a further one million are at risk. While the rainy season should provide the opportunity for farmers to plant crops for the coming year, in South Sudan it brings a host of humanitarian challenges for both aid workers and the population.

Hospital vehicle pulled from the mud. Albert Gonzalez Farran / ICRC

No more access

The rainy season is expected to start in May and last until October. While more than 7 million South Sudanese require lifesaving assistance, including 40% of the population who are in need of urgent food, the rainy season will make it harder for aid workers to provide help and for the population to reach aid centres.

With only a couple of kilometres of paved roads, travelling in South Sudan is extremely challenging and time-consuming. Even in the dry season, a 500 km trip takes around a week to complete.

Heavy rainfalls render most roads and airstrips impassable, leaving two thirds of the country unreachable. As a result, access to vulnerable people will be impeded and entire communities will be cut off of the rest of the country, including those most affected by the food crisis. Humanitarian organizations are currently racing to stockpile food in these communities before the rainy season begins.

Not only will humanitarian workers struggle to reach the population, many South Sudanese themselves will have to walk for hours in the mud before finding aid facilities.

Pawel Krzysiek / ICRC

Waterborne disease – the perfect storm

The rainy season also provides a fertile ground for the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.

Clean water as well as good sanitation are essential to prevent the outbreak of diseases. Nearly 5 million South Sudanese do not have access to clean water. Sanitation facilities are almost non existent forcing 74% of the population to defecate in the open. A cholera outbreak was declared earlier this year, for the third time in a row.

The lack of sanitation and health facilities, coupled with the flooding, has proven to be deadly for many South Sudanese in previous rainy seasons, especially in overcrowded displaced persons’ camps and urban centres. Flooding indeed further increases the risk of contamination of water sources and consequently diseases, while overcrowded areas facilitate their transmission.

Daniel Littlejohn / ICRC

How the ICRC is responding

Although the outlook in South Sudan is bleak, support for the people of South Sudan does exist. iguacu’s recommended charity the ICRC has been present in South Sudan since 1986 and is well-prepared to continue providing critical help during the rainy season.

The ICRC has a great capacity to reach out to the population. During the dry season, the ICRC relies on airdrops to distribute help in remote areas.  In March, the ICRC distributed food to over 20,000 people in Jonglei state. With the rainy season rending airstrips unusable, the ICRC will dispatch its helicopters and hence pursue their vital relief work nationwide.

In addition to their emergency response to the food crisis, the ICRC focuses on longer-term strategies to eradicate hunger in South Sudan. Ahead of the rainy season, the ICRC distributed seeds and tools to some 200,000 South Sudanese throughout the country, allowing them to grow and plant their crops for the new season.

The ICRC also works all year long to improve access to safe-drinking water and healthcare. In 2016, the ICRC restored 19 water facilities and conducted more than 140,000 outpatient consultations.

With the acute food crisis and the cholera epidemic, the rainy season will certainly be deadlier than in years before. As soon as July this year, more than 5 million South Sudanese are expected to be suffering from food insecurity.

On a positive note, violence should decrease as the rainy season makes it harder for armed groups to move. In the meantime, the ICRC will continue in all conditions to support those in great need.

 



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