On Tuesday the World Food Progamme (WFP) said it will be suspending food aid to 1.7 million people in the Republic of South Sudan due to critical funding shortages as a result of the war in Ukraine.
The agency said the war in Ukraine has caused funding to decrease as countries allocate large budgets to meet the enormous humanitarian needs of the country. “Donors are no longer actively supporting South Sudan as a crisis,” said aid Marwa Awad, WFP spokesperson in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
Awad said rising fuel prices have also placed pressure on the WFP’s operations in the country, where less than 2% of roads are paved. The agency has calculated it needs an extra $2.8M just to cover food transportation costs.
Overall, the WFP says it needs an extra $426M to reinstate its full intended program of food assistance for the next six months. “The World Food Programme [has] a foothold in the hardest-to-reach areas,” said Awad. “So with that funding we can make a difference. But we need donors to be generous again and to support people here.”
The suspension of aid comes at the worst possible time for the people of South Sudan as the country faces a year of unprecedented hunger. Fuelled by continuing conflict, severe flooding, localized drought, and soaring food prices made worse by the crisis in Ukraine, over 60 percent of the country’s population is grappling with severe food insecurity during the lean season.
The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) assessment warned that 7.74 million people in South Sudan will face severe acute hunger at the height of the lean season between June and August of this year, while 1.4 million children will be acutely malnourished.
“We are extremely concerned about the impact of the funding cuts on children, women and men who will not have enough to eat during the lean season. These families have completely exhausted their coping strategies. They need immediate humanitarian assistance to put food on the table in the short-term and to rebuild their livelihoods and resilience to cope with future shocks,” said Adeyinka Badejo, Acting Country Director of the World Food Programme in South Sudan.
“Humanitarian needs are far exceeding the funding we have received this year. If this continues, we will face bigger and more costly problems in the future, including increased mortality, malnutrition, stunting, and disease,” said Badejo.
The WFP said it planned to deliver aid to more than 6 million food-insecure people in the country this year, as it did in 2021, however major cuts have forced the organization to prioritize its limited food assistance to reach 4.5 million of the most vulnerable people struggling with severe hunger across 52 counties in South Sudan. This includes 87,000 people in eight counties who are already experiencing catastrophic hunger and living in famine-like conditions.
“It’s a drastic cut because it’s a third of the total of people that we know require food assistance, but we had to do a kind of triage, if you will. We had to decide who to keep assisting and who we can afford to suspend the assistance from – not because they’re not in need but because they can survive,” Awad said.
She is now very worried about the 1.7 million people cut off from support. “They are food insecure. And if aid is not given to support them, they will slide further down the scale of hunger and reach starvation level. If people are not nourished and are not reached regularly, they will get worse and worse and join the ranks of their brethren who are already looking death in the eye.”
The WFP said it exhausted all options before suspending assistance to parts of South Sudan. In 2021 they cut rations in half, leaving families with less food to eat.
These latest reductions to assistance will also impact 178,000 schoolchildren who will no longer receive daily school meals. Awad said she had already heard through colleagues on Tuesday that parents were planning to take their children out of school and put them to work as a result of the suspension.
The agency says they will be unable to avoid more drastic reductions unless more funding is received. The food agency says generous support from donors and early humanitarian action can avert a deadly crisis and save lives.