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New research finds South Sudan has most severe food insecurity in the world

2 February 2023

South Sudan has the most severe food insecurity in the world, with at least 7.7 million facing acute malnutrition or starvation, new research has found.

  • Almost 8 million people in South Sudan are facing acute malnutrition or starvation

  • The ‘food insecurity gap’ shows that South Sudan is experiencing the most severe food insecurity crisis in the world.

  • Humanitarian funding to South Sudan has decreased since 2020.

  • Just 0.4% of humanitarian funding for food sectors to South Sudan goes directly to front-line local aid organisations.

A new ‘food insecurity gap’ metric, developed by Development Initiatives (DI) and commissioned by CAFOD, found that South Sudan is experiencing the most severe food insecurity in the world.

The food crisis is being driven by continued conflict and climate crises such as flooding and drought. Last year was the 5th year of severe food insecurity for South Sudan, impacting over half (54%) of its total population (14.3 million).

Local and national actors (LNAs) are identified as key in the effective delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance, yet almost no food sector funding is directly targeted to LNAs in South Sudan.

The research found that just 0.4% humanitarian funding for food sectors to South Sudan goes to the front-line local aid organisations directly, despite clear evidence that local groups are more effective in tackling hunger.

The consequences have been deadly and are contributing to South Sudan having one of the worst life expectancy rates in the world (58 years).

Research also found that despite the worsening crisis, overall humanitarian funding to South Sudan has decreased since 2020.

This lack of funding is particularly acute when compared to other countries in the region. For example, since the current conflict in Ethiopia began in 2020, food sector funding has more than doubled (2020-22).

However, in the same period – despite South Sudan experiencing the most severe food insecurity in the world – food sector funding is estimated to have decreased by over a third (38%).

The UK, as well as the wider international community, has significantly reduced its funding to South Sudan. Since 2017, the amount provided to South Sudan in the “South Sudan Humanitarian Fund” by the UK has dropped from $22m to just $3m in 2022.

The UK aid budget for South Sudan was also cut by 59% in 2021, resulting in cuts to critical work across the country.

Christine Allen, the Director of CAFOD said:

“The fact that South Sudan is facing the most severe food crisis in the world, yet it is seeing its funding cut year in year is shameful.

“The people of South Sudan have experienced endless conflict, as well as floods and drought. It is tackling these injustices that our aid budget should prioritise.

“We need the UK to play its role with the wider international community, to step and show support to South Sudan through reversing aid cuts. If we don’t, the already dire situation will only get worse.”

The parts of the country experiencing the most severe hunger, such as Pibor and neigbouring regions, are also where international agencies have largely or entirely withdrawn due to conflict, and it is local organisations that stay and deliver assistance, and yet receive the least support to do so.

Gloria Mojong Morris of Titi Foundation South Sudan, who provides life saving support for women and girls in the hardest to reach areas of the country said:

“The UN and International NGOs talk a good game about the best model to responding to a crisis is to be as local as possible, but the reality couldn’t be more different.

“The local organisations, who are on the front-line responding to crises, in areas where no one else can go are too often ignored. If we are ever going to tackle entrenched humanitarian crises, we need to properly fund those on the front-line responding.”

Case study

The Organization for Children Harmony (TOCH) in Gogrial, Warrap State

TOCH provides cash and voucher assistance programmes to help with acute need and is the only agency working in Greater Tonj, which is one of the most conflict affected areas in South Sudan.

Yet, the way funding mechanisms work TOCH receives very limited access to direct funding for food insecurity. This means their programmes are stretched and they can be limited in their response. By funding organisations such as TOCH directly, food insecurity could be tackled at source, in the hardest to reach parts of South Sudan.

Acute food insecurity is faced by people who are unable to afford or access essential food needs, and presents the risks of malnutrition, starvation or death.

Adrian Lovett, Chief Executive Officer at Development Initiatives said:

“The situation faced by South Sudan is deeply troubling and means that they are unable to tackle urgent humanitarian need, let alone build critical resilience.

“At the same time as South Sudan having the most severe food insecurity in the world, we are also seeing funding for food sectors falling further short of what’s needed.

“Unless funding is increased and targeted to local organisations on the front lines of crises who are simply better placed to address protracted crisis, the situation in South Sudan will only worsen.”

The joint report described the desperate situation across the Horn of Africa, which is facing a fifth consecutive failed rainy season, described as ‘a climatic event not seen in the last 40 years.

The shocks of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine have contributed to a spike in food and fuel prices across the Horn of Africa region, compounding the impacts of poor harvests.

In 2022 and 2023, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are projected to have over 36 million people affected by severe drought and acute food insecurity.

Many in the region are also facing a severe water shortage, malnutrition and the risk of disease, in addition to the deaths of nearly 9.5 million livestock in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Notes to editors:

The research was conducted by Development Initiatives, (DI) is an international development organisation that applies the power of data and evidence to build sustainable solutions that create an equitable and resilient world. DI work closely with partners to ensure data-driven evidence and analysis are used effectively in policy and practice to end poverty, reduce inequality and increase resilience.

Other stats from the report:

Food insecurity in the Horn of Africa region has nearly doubled in the last six years from 19.8 million people in 2017 to 53.8 million people in 2022.

In 2022, 3 countries in the Horn of Africa region were among the top 10 in the world with the largest populations facing food insecurity (Ethiopia – 22.6 million, Sudan – 11.7 million, and South Sudan – 7.7 million). 2 others (Somalia – 7.1 million, Kenya – 4.4 million) were in the top 25.

The largest increases were in Ethiopia (from 16.8 million people in 2021 to 22.6 million people in 2022) and Somalia (from 3.5 million people in 2021 to 7.1 million people in 2022).

From 2021 to 2022, the number of people facing acute food insecurity in South Sudan increased by 500,000 people (from 7.2 million to 7.7 million people).