Eight years after South Sudan's independence, hunger continues to plague the world’s youngest nation. A recent United Nations report shows nearly half the population – 6.1 million people – are facing some degree of food insecurity.
Climate problems, economic instability, and pockets of continuing conflict in South Sudan have driven millions of refugees to neighboring countries. Others seek food and safety at U.N. Protection of Civilians sites or POCs, inside the country.
Thomson Phiri is the World Food Program's communications manager in South Sudan.
“South Sudan is one of the most complex programs globally for the World Food Program, because 60 percent of the area is inaccessible by road, during the rainy season. and ironically, the rainy season, coincides with the peak hunger season in South Sudan, when people struggle to put food on their tables,” said Phiri.
Hungry people mean business is urgent at a food distribution center the U.N. POC in Malakal, South Sudan as WFP staff distribute monthly food rations to some of the internally displaced people who live here.
“Before the 2013 war, things were good outside there."
Mary La and her 12 children have lived in this camp, with 30,000 other internally displaced persons for six years. Before the 2013 war, she said “things were good”, that she and her husband used to farm and fish and make their own food but now, she says, “they are depending on humanitarian aid and struggle to make the food allotment last each month.”
Others in this, crowded tent city say they would like to return home but have never tried because their homes no longer exist. Some worry about what might happen beyond the security provided by the walls of the POC in Malakal. Elijah Nyol Lual, is the Director of Relief and Rehabilitation in Central Upper Nile State.
“They want to see the preparation of the National Government; I think that will give them the confidence that now we think that peace is in place,” said Lual.
Last year's fragile peace deal has allowed the WFP to pre-position 173,000 tons of food, 66,000 tons more than last year, in 60 locations ahead of this rainy season, that will help more than 5 million people. But the country’s Minister of Agriculture and Food Security said the ultimate goal is self-sufficiency.
“The problem is not somebody coming to give us food to become independent; the problem is how we can produce our own food,” said Onyoti Adigo Nyikuac, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security.
However, Hazel Dewey, the UNMISS Field Coordinator for the Upper Nile region, says from government to humanitarian organizations to citizens living in the POCs, there is agreement on what’s most important.
“If you don’t have peace, people won’t be able to go back, plant, harvest and return to their normal life,” Dewey said.
Something echoed in the POC sites.
“There is no alternative unless we accept peace," saud Lual.