Northern Bahr El-Ghazal counties face food shortages

30 May 2012

Northern Bahr El-Ghazal counties face food shortages

30 May 2012 – The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) is distributing seeds and tools to farmers in three counties of Northern Bahr El-Ghazal state in a bid to avert serious food shortages later this year.

The counties of Aweil North and Aweil East are among a number of areas in South Sudan that may face a prolonged and severe hunger season this year, according to a recent report issued by the South Sudan Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster.

The report also identifies several counties in Jonglei State and the border states of Unity, Warrap and Upper Nile where residents could find themselves in an emergency food security phase in 2012. An emergency food security phase is regarded as the most critical set of conditions apart from a full-blown famine,

"More than 20 per cent of the population in these areas will have poor food consumption," said the report of the cluster, which is led by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and FAO.

The office of UNMISS Northern Bahr El-Ghazal State Coordinator Mekbib Kifle is working with the UN Resident Coordinator's Support Office and the Recovery, Rehabilitation and Peace-building unit to facilitate and support the work of UN humanitarian agencies to avert a major food shortage crisis in the state's northernmost counties.

"Monitoring and assessment are ongoing, and we continue to work with other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to put in place the relevant early warning and early response mechanisms," said Mr. Kifle. "(It is) part of our mandate to protect civilians from imminent attacks, which include crises like food insecurity."

A statement by WFP earlier this month warned that the recent outbreak of fighting near the international border with Sudan threatens to exacerbate the looming food shortages facing the local population.

"Recent fighting and shutdown of trade with Sudan threaten to push more people into a food-security emergency," said the WFP statement. "The Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster is working with humanitarian partners to scale up their operations in border states."

The situation is serious even in those parts of South Sudan that are not expected to face emergency conditions in the area of food supply.

One example is the Northern Bahr El-Ghazal county of Aweil West where farmers are receiving assistance from FAO to prevent a repetition of the disappointing harvests in 2011.

"The harvests last year were so poor, commodities are scarce and prices of food have increased radically," said Aweil West County Commissioner Santo Garang Tong. "We are now even asking the development partners to increase their target so as to reach more of our people."

Among the recipients of FAO support are five groups of farmers in the community of Udhum who recently received sacks of groundnuts, wheelbarrows, hoes, spades, trowels and other tools.

"We are very happy to receive this assistance," said Martin Deng Achuil, a local farmer who heads the five groups. "But with 155 households as members, I don't know if it will be enough.

"People are suffering," he added. "You can clearly see the malnutrition, especially in the children."

The greater Bahr El-Ghazal region was the site of one of the worst famines in recent African history when an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people starved to death in 1998. At its peak during the months of July and August, between 50 and 100 people were dying on a daily basis.