South Sudan

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Famine has been declared in Unity State in South Sudan – millions are at risk of starving.

Fred McCray, CARE’s Country Director in South Sudan, said:

The declaration of famine in parts of South Sudan is just the final step on a long path of hunger and conflict. The last three years of violence have pushed people over the edge of survival, leaving many families with nothing but leaves and roots to eat.

He added: “It is now of utmost urgency to prevent more people from dying of hunger and deliver food and other humanitarian assistance. At the same time, we call on all parties to the conflict to stop targeting civilians and ensure that aid organisations have access to people in need.”

As of May 2017, an estimated 5.5 million people across South Sudan are facing severe food insecurity, including some 1.46 million on the brink of famine.

Watch Nyamuch, a mother in South Sudan, tell the heartbreaking story of how mothers like her struggle to find enough food for their children - and see how CARE is responding through our mobile health clinics which provide emergency nutrition to mothers and babies:

The crisis in brief

  • Over the past year, the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan has deepened and spread, affecting people in areas previously considered stable and exhausting the coping capacity of those already impacted.
  • Nearly 7.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection across the country as a result of armed conflict, inter-communal violence, economic crisis, disease outbreaks and climatic shocks.
  • Acute malnutrition remains a major public health emergency. Out of 23 counties with recent data, 14 have Global Acute Malnutrition at or above 15% of the population.
  • 5.5 million people (47% of the national population) are estimated to be severely food insecure. The magnitude of the food crisis is unprecedented.

What we are doing

CARE’s emergency response has so far directly assisted more than 470,000 people (overall figure as at December 2016) in four of the worst affected states, with emergency nutrition, water, sanitation, health, hygiene, education and protection support. We also support over 40 health facilities in Unity and Upper Nile States.

Our emergency response plan previously focused on Eastern and Central Equatoria is now being revised to a whole country response plan. We have joined the UNICEF Rapid Response Missions to Leer County and will explore the potential for CARE to provide longer term nutrition assistance in this county, building on CARE’s large presence in Northern Unity, including the Bentiu Protection of Civilians camp.

Read the latest updates

Click here to read the latest stories from CARE’s emergency response in South Sudan.


​​What is the definition of famine?

Famine is the worst-case scenario on a five-level scale used internationally to assess the level of food security. The scale uses several indicators to declare a famine, including acute malnutrition in more than 30 per cent of children, at least two deaths per 10,000 people every day and access to less than four litres of water a day. Large-scale displacement of people and civil strife are also factors.

What are the underlying causes?

A vicious conflict that has been raging across South Sudan for more than three years has left tens of thousands of people dead and forced more than 2 million people from their homes. More than 700,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries and at least 1.6 million people are internally displaced, most of them living in unregulated and insecure camps with no means of support. Following outbreaks of fierce fighting in late 2016, Fred McCray, CARE’s Country Director in South Sudan, said:

Previously peaceful areas have now plunged into violence, leaving fields abandoned, houses burnt, assets looted. Seeds and tools have been destroyed and farmers are too scared to plough their fields or sell products at the markets. Many people have fled their homes, leaving productive lands fallow. This desolate state of survival has become the new normal for millions of families in South Sudan.

What are the implications of calling a food crisis a famine?

To the people who are suffering as a result of food insecurity, whether it’s called a famine or a food crisis makes little difference: people are literally starving to death, and help is needed as much today and tomorrow as it was yesterday. A declaration of famine often moves international donors to act and commit urgently needed funds to provide life-saving aid. However, by then it is often too late and many people will have already died before aid reaches them.

Our response

CARE is implementing emergency response programs in Unity, Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei and Upper Nile regions - the most conflict-affected and hardest-to-reach areas of South Sudan - targeting 435,000 affected people. So far (June 2017) we have helped more than 320,000 people with support including:

  • food security and livelihood support
  • nutrition treatment for children with acute malnutrition
  • mobile clinic services
  • curative health services
  • gender-based violence awareness messaging and psychosocial support for affected people
  • conflict mitigation and resolution through peace committees.

CARE South Sudan Factsheet June 2016

While much of the humanitarian response has been centred around Protection of Civilian sites, currently housing around 100,000 people, the majority of South Sudanese affected by the conflict live in areas cut off by fighting, seasonal flooding or poor infrastructure. In Unity state, CARE teams travel on foot to vaccinate children against polio and measles, and deliver life saving drugs and nutrition supplies. In Jonglei, CARE provides assistance in communities hosting other South Sudanese people who have fled from fighting. 

CARE is also supporting South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, including providing assistance to refugees from South Sudan in Rhino camp.

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