Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Starving Sudanese need help

Food needs in South Sudan have reached a critical point
Food needs in South Sudan have reached a critical point

The use of the word 'famine' is more than mere semantics on the part of the United Nations. "Without immediate action, up to a million people could face famine in a matter of months," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of South Sudan in mid-April.

Also in April, UNICEF predicted that 50,000 children could die there this year from malnutrition. We need to take these warnings seriously.

A conference of international government representatives was held in Oslo in May to raise funds for the humanitarian response in South Sudan.

At the time, the UN's South Sudan Appeal was 67% underfunded. An additional $614m (£365m) was pledged at Oslo, however, as I write, just $819m of the full $1.8bn required has been received, leaving the appeal still 55.5% short of target.

The UN's appeal for funding has been largely ignored. Only 45.5% of the required funding has been provided by international governments and institutions.

Since this appeal was launched, the needs in South Sudan have got worse. Many parts of the country are inaccessible because of the conflict and the rainy season.

As with its predecessor in January, the peace agreement signed in Addis Ababa on May 9 has made no difference to the situation on the ground.

Fewer than half of the peacekeepers pledged in December have materialised. Of these, most have been borrowed from other trouble spots, like Democratic Republic of Congo.

Finally, one of the early warning signs for famine – rationing and the selling-off of assets to provide food – has been widely reported.

Fatigue can easily set in when confronted with more negative images from Africa. But an incredibly positive note is that Ethiopia, 30 years after its own famine, is now a key player in the relief of the distress of its new neighbour.

If you thought there was anything you could do to save the lives of 50,000 children, you would do it.

An early acknowledgement of the parlous state of food security in South Sudan is the first essential step in avoiding this outcome.

Barry Andrews is CEO of GOAL

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