Thursday, May 7, 2015

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South Sudan: Hunger Compounds Instability and Conflict

Emergency food aid as well as long-term efforts are required to bring peace and security.
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Women in the Upper Nile state, South Sudan.

South Sudan is facing a major hunger emergency as drought has ruined food supplies. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says nearly five million people "could suffer from food insecurity in 2012, with an estimated one million people severely food-insecure”.

Ahnna Gudmunds, a WFP Sudan officer, says, "Households will face significant difficulty obtaining food during this period. Volatile food supply and poor diets are likely to intensify the severity of the hunger season”.

It gets worse. Fighting between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes has escalated in recent months in the Jonglei State, leading to further suffering, displacement, and hunger. The two sides have a history of violence. Typically, one side kidnaps members of the other or steals cattle, the other side responds with an attack, and the cycle of violence continues. The WFP is feeding about 170,800 people displaced by this conflict.

Emergency food aid, however, must be followed by longer-term development aid.

Gudmunds explains that Jonglei is "one of the most underdeveloped states with a very poor, and sometimes non-existent, infrastructure. Some of the counties may be accessible by road only for few months a year due to rains."

The WFP is rushing to ensure supplies are in place ahead of these expected rains in April. And the international community needs to ensure the WFP has enough funding to carry on the relief work.

Armed and dangerous

South Sudan, which gained its independence last year, is reeling from war and drought. There is also no shortage of weapons, making the conflict between the Lou Nuer and Murle that much more dangerous. Both tribes were armed during the decades-long Civil War between the South and North Sudan that officially ended in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

A report from the Small Arms Survey says that, "Despite post-CPA disarmament drives, both groups have remained armed and active. Their ongoing feud is highly suggestive of civil war-era dynamics, exacerbated by post-CPA jockeying for services, power, and influence."

The government of South Sudan is currently undertaking a campaign to disarm civilians in Jonglei. Most agree that disarmament is needed, but there is disagreement over when this disarmament should take place.

The Enough project – a US-based NGO focusing on ending crimes against humanity – warns that time for disarmament is not right now and could undermine the peace process. They argue that needs to be confidence-building, dialogue, and humanitarian aid well in process before travelling the disarmament path.

Amanda Hsiao, Enough Project South Sudan field researcher, argues that “without the capacity to simultaneously disarm rival communities to ensure the security of disarmed communities and to stop the flow of arms back into the hands of civilians, forcible disarmament at this moment will undermine, rather than facilitate, the government’s efforts toward peace-building in Jonglei.”

Jennifer Christian, Enough Project Sudan policy analyst, adds, "What the people of Jonglei require right now is humanitarian assistance, security, and the establishment of a mechanism through which they may peacefully resolve their grievances with other communities."

Building peace

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is focusing a great extent of its peace-building in South Sudan on development.

Sara Fajardo, a CRS officer, says, "Decades of violent conflict have left their mark. We need to provide alternatives to violence by investing in 'peace dividends' such as building roads, digging borehole wells, helping to strengthen the health care system, and providing seeds and tools for agriculture to name a few. These are all crucial components in giving people a reason to hope and build a future."

CRS is working on these projects in South Sudan as well as reinforcing relief efforts for the displaced. However, funding for these projects is key. CRS, for instance, faced low funding for its school feeding programs in Bor County, Jonglei and was forced to end these programmes last year.

Also crucial will be ensuring the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has enough resources to help protect civilians. Hilde Johnson, director of the mission, points out the importance of the mission, explaining that "UNMISS has reinforced its presence in key areas of Jonglei State and is conducting continuous air patrols to deter violence”.

It was such air patrols that detected and sounded the alarm about a large force of the Lou Nuer readying to attack the Murle in December.

Dialogue, development, and disarmament need to take place in South Sudan. Until they do, hunger and misery will continue in this impoverished nation. Right now, South Sudan is trapped in a major food crisis, with the futures of millions hanging in the balance.

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While I entirely agree that far too much emphasis is placed on humanitarian aid rather than longer term development assistance, I think it is problematic to think of these issues in linear terms. The protracted nature of the food security situation in South Sudan combined with security issues mean that it is difficult to envisage a smooth transition from emergency food aid to long-term development assistance that is suggested in the article. Also, we need to remember that concepts such as 'disarmament', if tackled in the wrong way, have the potential to cause further conflict and worsen food security,