On the 20th February 2017, famine was declared in two counties of the Unity State in central South Sudan. This was the first time a famine had been declared globally since 2011, and was brought on as a result of the country’s ongoing conflict, and to a lesser extent drought. Over 100,000 people faced starvation and a further one million were at risk of starvation.
Four months later, on the 21st June 2017, a UN backed report stated South Sudan was no longer classified as experiencing famine. This apparent turn in fortunes is, in no small part, down to the brilliant and arduous work done by aid workers in the Mayendit and Leer counties.
Despite the undoubted positives, the declassification of the famine in South Sudan must not overshadow the fact that the national food crisis is getting worse. From May to June alone, food insecurity rose from 5.5 million people to 6 million people, or roughly half the population. Since the first declaration of the famine the numbers of people facing starvation has nearly doubled to 1.7 million. In the same period, severe malnourishment in children rose from 250,000 to 276,000. Currently, 45,000 people live in “famine like” conditions in the Unity State (25,000) and Jonglei State (20,000).
SO… WHAT IS FAMINE (TECHNICALLY)?
Determining famine, and the preceding stages of food insecurity, is essentially a statistical calculation, with extremely fine margins in the case of South Sudan.
The IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) have five distinct phases of food insecurity, going from Phase 1 Minimal to Phase 5 Famine. In order for a Phase 5 Famine status to be classified evidence must exist to show a prevalence of acute malnutrition exceeding 30% of the population, at least 20% of households facing a complete lack of food, and mortality rate exceeding 2 deaths per 10,000 per day due to starvation. Only when all three criteria are met will the IPC classify a “rare and extreme” Phase 5 Famine.
Due to the complexity of the classification, challenges faced by aid workers to collect data and distribute food, and the ever-changing situation on the ground, it is likely that parts of South Sudan will experience famine again in the not too distant future, and the national food crisis will continue to get worse.