Media CenterCRS Sees Severe Hunger Spreading in South Sudan

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Tom Price
Catholic Relief Services
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Michael Stulman
Catholic Relief Services
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New Report Finds People Surviving On Wild Food; Acute Malnutrition in Children

BALTIMORE, MD/ NAIROBI, KENYA, March 9, 2017 – Severe hunger is spreading across South Sudan, according to a joint Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and World Food Programme (WFP) rapid needs assessment in Jonglei State. Jonglei has not yet reached the famine level declared in other parts of this conflict-riven nation, but this normally more peaceful area has emergency levels of hunger, and security is deteriorating. So hunger will only get worse.

The assessment found high-levels of food insecurity amongst 85,000 people in the areas surveyed, where families are surviving by gathering wild fruit, such as lily seeds, palm seeds and roots. For most people, this was their one meal per day.

Marketplaces have vanished, forcing people to walk for two or three days to buy scarce food. Lack of water, disease and diminishing pastureland has killed off half the livestock over the past three months. Children with severe malnutrition now account for 26 percent of all children, almost double the 15 percent emergency threshold. The lack of clean water, especially in makeshift settlements and internally displaced camps, has also led to outbreaks of cholera.

The full report can be viewed here.

Jerry Farrell, CRS’ Country Representative for South Sudan, said ongoing conflict is a major problem in Jonglei State, where CRS continues to provide emergency food assistance to hundreds of thousands of people.  In partnership with the World Food Programme, CRS distributes food supplies airdropped by WFP into areas that are difficult to reach because of insecurity or a lack of infrastructure. CRS staff hike ahead for days to reach those locations, and coordinate receiving food on the ground and the distribution of the food.

“The Nile offers abundant fishing in this region, but because of conflict and violence, many people are too scared to go out even if they have a net or line for fishing,” he said. Fear of violence is also keeping people from planting and harvesting fields. The result, says Farrell, is “people are forced to forage for their one meal of the day.”

To compound the already severe situation, the areas surveyed are also hosting large numbers of displaced people, who have fled conflict in other areas of South Sudan. Over 50 percent of households are headed by women, many of whom are widows. Large numbers of men were reportedly killed during fighting in December 2013 and July 2016.

“Beyond emergency food aid the people of Jonglei need livelihoods,” said Farrell. “Access permitting, we aim to help them return to their farms and their fisheries. This is how communities really get back on their feet and gain strength to withstand any future crises.”

In common with much of South Sudan, the assessment noted that there are no health facilities, medical professionals or medicine to treat the symptoms associated with severe malnutrition or other common diseases such as malaria. There are also extreme problems with access to drinking water, hygiene and sanitation facilities.

“Ending conflict is clearly the key to real progress in these areas,” Farrell said.

Read the full report, A Report on Rapid Needs Assessment in Ayod County, Jonglei.

Photos are available for download (password = photos)


Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, please visit or and follow CRS on social media: Facebook, @CatholicRelief@CRSnewsYouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.

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