South Sudan crisis

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The face of famine and hunger: ‘I give them tea and water to fill their stomachs’

At a site for displaced people in Pulka, northeast Nigeria, families arrive daily seeking safety, shelter, food, and clean water. 

Numbers tell only part of the story. Behind the statistics lies the anguish of parents struggling to keep their families alive.

Across Africa and in parts of the southern Arabian Peninsula a massive hunger crisis is threatening the lives of 30 million people. Some of them in an area of South Sudan are already enduring famine conditions.

Photo: Tom Saater/Oxfam

The scale of this disaster is shocking. But numbers have a way of numbing us. They can be too massive to personalise—until you listen to the stark words of a father unable to earn enough to feed his family or hear the anguish of a mother too hungry herself to produce milk for her newborn. With stories, statistics hit home.

In the photo essay below, you’ll meet some of the people struggling to survive the conflicts, drought, and terrible hunger crisis those events have triggered.

Fekri

Photo: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam

Fekri, 40, pictured here with an Oxfam-supplied hygiene kit, is a father of four living in Al-Jalilah, Yemen. “Life is difficult these days,” he says. “We cannot afford all the essential items. More than half of our money is spent on water.” 

Ahmed and Dolah

Photo: Moayed Al Shaibani/Oxfam

Ahmed, 45, and Dolah, 40, live in Khamer City, Yemen, with their eight children. Their sole source of income is Ahmed’s cobbling, but most days, he returns from the market empty-handed. Dolah goes begging at the market, hoping to collect some money or bread for the children, but she’s usually faced with verbal harassment. They hope that the war will end soon so that their children can sleep safely, free of hunger. 

Majok

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder

Majok is waiting to register for a World Food Programme distribution later in the month. He is one of hundreds of people moving from the islands to the mainland in Nyal, South Sudan, in search of food and safety. Younger family members had to help carry him during the one-and-a-half-hour trek through the swamps to make sure he was physically present for registration. 

Deqa

Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

Eighteen days before this photo of Deqa was taken in Somaliland in northern Somalia, she gave birth to her sixth child, a son who has been experiencing stomach troubles. At the moment, Daqa, who is 26, is on her own: Her husband is away tending to a goat and the single camel they have left from their herd of 200. “We eat once a day—only rice,” she said. It’s not nearly enough to meet the needs of her growing children. “I give them tea and water to fill their stomachs,” Deqa added.

Adan

Photo:Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

“Water is our main worry,” said Adan, a 58-year-old herder who has resettled in the Garadag district of Somaliland in northern Somalia with his five children. The family has moved many times in the past six months in a constant search for water. “We came here because we wanted to be closer to a water point, but the women have just got back and the water they collected is so hard and salty that we cannot even use it to dissolve milk powder. We cannot give milk to our children,” he said.

Yana

Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

When Boko Haram attacked her village in Nigeria during a wedding—taking the bride and other women—Yana, 27, fled with her four children. She now lives in the Kawar Mali ward in Maidiguiri, once the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency before the army expelled the group. Today, thousands of people displaced by the violence have found refuge in the area.

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Famine in South Sudan: communities at breaking point

In South Sudan, the violent and brutal war has put millions at risk. Women, men and children who have fled their homes in search of safety are now facing a new threat - hunger. With harvests still months away, the famine already declared in parts of the country will spread across the rest of the country, unless we act now.

Majok at the WFP registration site in Nyal. He had to make a one and half hours trek, helped by family members, from his home to Nyal to ensure he was physically present for the registration. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

In South Sudan, the violent and brutal war has put millions at risk. Women, men and children who have fled their homes in search of safety are now facing a new threat - hunger. With harvests still months away, the famine already declared in parts of the country will spread across the rest of the country, unless we act now.

When the rains begin in late April or May, conditions will become even more difficult for the people in need and for the humanitarian groups trying to reach them. Flooding makes roads and airstrips impassable and can cause a rise in cholera and other water-borne diseases.

George* sits on his mother’s lap as health personnel takes his measurements to determine his nutrition level. There are 208 malnutrition cases in this hospital in Nyal, Unity State. These don't include the many adults facing extreme hunger in the area.

Nearly 5 million people - 40 percent of the population - are facing extreme hunger. "We are seeing communities now at breaking point. In the swamps between the famine-affected areas and where Oxfam is working, we know that there are thousands of people going desperately hungry,” says Dorothy Sang, Oxfam's Humanitarian Campaign Manager in South Sudan.

Panjiyar County, in southern Unity State, sits next to the frontline of some of the heaviest fighting we are seeing in South Sudan today. It is no coincidence that this frontline is also home to the 100,000 people who have been hit by deadly famine. Many have traveled for days on foot to reach generous host communities, who themselves are now sharing what little food they have with their neighbours and are waiting for that next food aid delivery in order to survive.

An elderly woman at the registration site in Nyal Catholic church, South Sudan. She came from Nyandong Payam with the help of family members. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

So far, Oxfam and other humanitarian organisations have been able to help to keep famine from spreading with food distributions, clean water and other vital aid. So far, we have been distributing food to more than 415,000 people as well as providing more than 140,000 people with clean water and sanitation services.

Oxfam staff Pedro Marial Rock takes the fingerprint signatures of Nyabiey (left) and Nyakonga (right) to verify they are receiving food at a distribution in Nyal on March 20, 2017. Photo: Lauren Hartnett/Oxfam

In Nyal, Panyijar County, some of the most vulnerable people from surrounding islands arrive exhausted after hours on Oxfam canoes. They are here to register for a World Food Programme food distribution. We are using canoes and paying canoe operators to make sure that the most vulnerable do not miss out on access to food.

 

Marissa and her family fled from famine and conflict-hit Mayendit, where all of their food had been burnt and their home burnt down. They brought what they still had to Nyal, pulling their possessions along the swamps in large tarpaulins. They're now hoping to register for a food drop. Photo: Dorothy Sang/Oxfam

Besides providing clean water and toilets on some of the islands closest to Nyal, we are also helping both its island and mainland communities to set up vegetable gardens to boost their own diets and to build up their livelihoods.

“What concerns us most are the people we have yet to reach. The fighting means no one is able to work on the remote islands, and we are only able to send canoes up the river to help the people when we can ensure the safety of our staff,” says Sang.

 You can help

The people of South Sudan are doing all they can to help themselves. Where the newly displaced have arrived, families are generously offering what little they have. But this is not enough. We need to get more food, clean water and other vital support to the most vulnerable people.

We are calling for more funding to help reach people before it’s too late. You can help. Donate now.

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Fighting famine in East Africa, Nigeria and Yemen. Join us.

Across the world, millions of children, women and men are starving due to a devastating food crisis. A catastrophic combination of conflict and drought has left them facing terrifying food shortages – and there is no end in sight.

In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in East Africa, more than 19 million people are on the brink of starvation, while war in South Sudan has forced more than 3 million from their homes, and left millions more desperate for food. In February of this year, South Sudan became the first country in the world to declare famine since 2011.  

Photo: Tina Hillier/Oxfam

In the Somali region of Ethiopia, Fadumo lost three of her children – her triplets – to malnutrition when they were less than a month old. 

The 32-year-old farmer said: “They died because of a lack of food – they were malnourished. They were less than one month old. First one child died, then two more. I was afraid.

“How can anyone be happy when they have lost three children?”

Meanwhile, the drought has claimed two-thirds of her livestock.

“I had shoats and camels,” she explained. “Before, I used to have 60 animals, now I just have 20. I have one camel which is still alive.”

Now she fears for the lives of her remaining children and said: “What will they eat? We are getting some help – have some food and water.”

But she added: “We need many things. We need food which is nourishing. Food is our biggest need.”

Elsewhere, parts of Nigeria – where at least 4.4 million people are experiencing crisis levels of hunger – are also thought to be in the grip of famine. However, the situation in the country is so volatile due to conflict that it has been almost impossible to confirm that famine has taken hold.

And in Yemen, ongoing fighting between pro-government and rebel forces has left more than 17 million people on the brink of starvation. Without a massive humanitarian response, it will be impossible to avert famine.

Millions of people – in different parts of the world – have one thing in common: they are all experiencing the devastating impact of severe hunger on a daily basis.

Oxfam is supporting communities facing famine and hunger by distributing emergency food supplies and providing clean water and sanitation as well as providing cash or cash vouchers so people can buy what they need locally, supporting local business. We are working to prevent fatal diseases such as cholera by getting clean water to the most vulnerable, and to support them get their crops growing once again so that they can feed themselves and their families.

We are already helping over one million people in Yemen, more than 600,000 in South Sudan, over 300,000 in Nigeria, 255,000 people in the Southern Somali region of Ethiopia and plan to begin a response to the drought in Somalia.

In situations where hunger and malnutrition are rife, it is usually the children who suffer the most. Even if they manage to survive prolonged periods of extreme hunger, they often pay the price in the long term as they lose their immunity and their ability to fight disease.

Like countless other infants and children in South Sudan, Tabitha’s baby daughter is in danger of becoming severely malnourished. 

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Tabitha’s daughter is sucking on a dry “Tuok” – a dry seed from a type of palm tree which is eaten when there is nothing else left.

Tabitha fled with her baby to seek refuge in Garbek, a small community in Unity State, after they were chased out of their home when violence broke out.

Now, with food so scarce, Tabitha is desperate – and resorts to eating whatever she can get her hands on.

“We feed on water lilies, fish and anything we could find in the river,” said Tabitha, who also lost most of her animals during her journey.

“What we currently need is food [and] medication. The more time it takes the worse it shall be for us.”

We’re determined to act quickly to ensure that mothers like Fadumo and Tabitha do not see their children go hungry. We have already reached many thousands of people with food, water, sanitation and support – but we are most concerned about the people we have yet to reach. 

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Threat of four famines in 2017 “a catastrophic betrayal of our common humanity”

Oxfam calls for immediate humanitarian and political action


Friday 24 February 2017 

The world stands on the brink of an unprecedented four famines in 2017 due to a catastrophic failure of the global community to uphold its obligations to the most vulnerable of people, Oxfam has said. 

The aid agency is calling on the international community including Ireland to take immediate action to help as many as 20 million people now at risk of starvation in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and the Horn of Africa. 


After months of early warnings, famine was declared this week in parts of South Sudan. In northern Nigeria it is likely that some 400,000 people living in areas cut off from aid are already suffering famine. Both Yemen and Somalia stand on the brink. The primary driver of these crises is conflict, though in Somalia it is drought. 

Donor countries have failed to adequately support efforts to resolve these conflicts and, in Yemen, are actually fuelling the conflict through arms sales. There is now urgent humanitarian need, as well as a moral obligation, to meet the $4.4 billion needed for the aid response for these crises at the required scale.

Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive Jim Clarken said: “Famine does not arrive suddenly or unexpectedly. It comes after months of procrastination and ignored warnings. It is a slow agonising process, driven by callous national politics and international indifference. It is the ultimate betrayal of our common humanity. 

“The response by many donors to ever bigger UN appeals for humanitarian funding have fallen well below what is required and short-changed the aid effort to save people’s lives. Without urgent action by the international community, these crises will only deepen in the coming months. This cannot continue. Governments need to act now to fully fund the aid effort and Ireland, with our own experience of famine, is uniquely positioned to lead an urgent call to action at UN and EU levels. 


“The famine already gripping parts of South Sudan will spread across the country if not more is done. Famine may be imminent in Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria but it is not yet inevitable. If we act collectively now with a massive injection of aid, backed with diplomatic clout driven by the imperative to save lives, we can prevent a catastrophic loss of life. As a hunger crisis unfolds, malnutrition and mortality rates rise exponentially, rather than steadily. Without an urgent injection of financial support, an already stretched international humanitarian system will not be able to cope and many more people will die.”


Oxfam is calling for the rapid and increased release of humanitarian funding to save lives and prevent these crises exacerbating further. It also urging for increased diplomatic efforts to convene ceasefires, enable safe passage by those fleeing insecurity and secure access by aid agencies to those in need of assistance.


In Somalia, 2.9 million people face acute food security ‘crisis’ and ‘emergency’ levels. This could tip into famine if the April-June rains fail, their ability to buy food declines and people do not receive humanitarian support. 

In Nigeria, over 5 million people are in food crisis, and this is projected to reach 5.7 million by June 2017. There is a strong likelihood that at least 400,000 people could already be experiencing famine-like conditions and that this could rise to up to 800,000 over the course of 2017 if humanitarian assistance cannot be delivered.  

In South Sudan, 100,000 people are facing starvation now and a further 1 million people are classified as being on the brink of famine in Unity State. 

In Yemen, over 7 million people are just one step away from famine, and an extra 10 million people are severely hungry. This is largest hunger emergency in the world. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation is reporting that wheat stocks for the country will run out in April.   

Oxfam is already helping over a million people in Yemen, more than 600,000 in South Sudan, over 200,000 in Nigeria and an assessment mission has just returned from northern Somalia where it plans to begin a response to the drought. 

Oxfam Ireland has a hunger crisis appeal at www.oxfamireland.org/hunger 

ENDS


Contact: Sorcha Nic Mhathúna, Oxfam Ireland, 083 1975 107, sorcha.nicmhathuna@oxfamireland.org

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Oxfam warns of a race against time, as famine declared in parts of South Sudan

20 Febuary 2017

As the UN and the government of South Sudan have today declared famine in parts of the war-torn country, Oxfam is warning that time is running out.

This is the UN’s first confirmation of famine anywhere in the world since 2011.

Unity State is the region most affected by severe food shortages – caused by ongoing conflict and economic turmoil – with more than 100,000 people facing starvation. Reports suggest that more than 40% of South Sudan is in urgent need of food, while more than a million people throughout the country could be on the brink of famine.

Oxfam has been working there for over 30 years and is currently distributing emergency food supplies; delivering clean water to prevent the spread of disease; and providing livelihoods support. In the past year alone, Oxfam has helped over 600,000 people across the country with food and water distributions, and assisted almost 40,000 of the most vulnerable in Panyijar county, Unity State.

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken, who has lived and worked in the region, said: “This is a man-made tragedy, and we are running out of time to avoid it getting worse. 

“In over 30 years working in the affected areas, Oxfam has never witnessed such dire need. Vulnerable people, out of reach of life-saving assistance due to the conflict, are paying the ultimate price. People have been pushed to the brink of surviving on what they can find to eat in swamps. As so often in a crisis, women and children being the worst affected. We need an end to the fighting so that we can get food to those that urgently need it and provide them with support to rebuild their shattered lives”. 

“In 2011 after the famine that hit Somalia the world said never again. The declaration of famine in South Sudan reflects the collective failure to heed the countless warnings of an ever-worsening situation”. 

ENDS 

For further information or to arrange an interview: 

Phillip Graham – T: 00 44 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org 

NOTES TO THE EDITOR 

About South Sudan

Following decades of fighting, South Sudan formally became an independent state in July 2011. There was high expectation for growth and many believed they would not see another conflict in the country they fought so hard and so long for. Sadly, war erupted in Juba in mid-December 2013 and quickly transformed into a national, political and ethnic crisis. 

Since then, more than 2.5 million people have been displaced. Of these 830,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, mainly Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. The crisis has made it hard for people to plant crops, disrupted livelihoods and markets and forced host and displaced communities to share the little they do have, leaving one in three people severely food insecure.

Oxfam has been assisting populations in South Sudan since the 1980s providing food security and water, sanitation and hygiene assistance. 

Spokespeople 

Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview now, both in the region and in Ireland:

Emma Jane Drew, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Programme Manager, based in Juba, South Sudan 

Oxfam Ireland Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne has visited Oxfam programmes in South Sudan numerous times and is available for interview in Dublin.

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken, who lived and worked in the region, is available for interview in Dublin.

 

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