Weekly Good News: Famine averted in South Sudan, for now

Remember all those warnings about a potential famine in South Sudan? There is some good news. Things are a lot better in South Sudan, thanks to the international response to early concerns and some rains.

The government of South Sudan issued a statement this week saying that food security in the country has improved so much that it expects the situation to improve through the end of the year.

“The Government, based on the results of the latest [Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC)] Analysis, would like to clearly state that there is no famine in South Sudan,” said the statement. “Normal rainfall, good crop planting and performance, and the start of the green harvest in late August have had a positive effect on the seasonal availability of crops, livestock products, fish, and wild foods.”

Now, all is not hunky dory in South Sudan. The same IPC report that the South Sudanese government touts says that things are worse in the country as compared to previous harvest seasons. While famine may have been averted, food security is still a concern in South Sudan.

Especially for next year.

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It estimates that 2.5 million people will be in be in ‘crisis’ or ‘Emergency’ in the period between January and March 2015. That is due to the conflict that is nearing one year old, in the country.

The rest of 2014 is by no means in the clear. The IPC report calls the final three months ‘dire’ and says acute malnutrition will remain above emergency thresholds. This can all change if action is taken immediately.

A ‘short window of opportunity’ exists before the year ends to ensure that people have enough food. Meeting that need will require more humanitarian assistance that is aimed at improving nutrition and the safety of people living in South Sudan.

Above all else, South Sudan needs to return to stability. Leaders are meeting from the opposing sides, so a peace deal in the near future is in the realm of possibility. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a public call for peace in South Sudan, during the UN General Assembly meetings, on Thursday.

“I call today, once again, on the leadership of both sides to find an inclusive and mutually agreed power sharing arrangement to start a transitional phase of governance,” said Ban. “Those responsible for atrocities must face justice through a mechanism that meets international standards. The leaders must protect civilians, allow humanitarian access and guarantee the safety of aid operations.”

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Aid groups are also well aware that more assistance is needed to ensure that fewer people face hunger and malnutrition. The charity World Vision said that averting famine is not enough.

“South Sudan needs peace, it needs all parties to the conflict to stop fighting, it needs to allow aid workers and relief supplies unimpeded access – and it needs the world to care enough to step in now, before we see a repeat of the 260,000 dead in the 2011 Somalia famine,” said World Vision South Sudan Program Director Perry Mansfield, in a statement. “More of whom died before famine was even declared than after.”

While the good news comes with major qualifiers, averting a famine is a pretty big achievement. That should be a big of good news coming from a country beset with its share of bad stories.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.