Since violence broke out in December 2013, South Sudan has had an unpredictable future. Along with decreases in rainfall and food shortages, the fighting has caused unprecedented levels of hunger and undernutrition. In February 2017, the UN declared that 100,000 people were suffering from famine and that 40 percent of the population is in urgent need of food aid. The famine has affected a relatively small area in the northern part of the country, where the conflict between the government and rebel groups has been most intense.
“Over a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished,” said Jeremy Hopkins, a Unicef official in South Sudan. “If we do not reach these children with urgent aid, many of them will die.”
The country has one of the most fertile landscapes in Africa and can support many different types of crops. However, due to the continuing conflict, seeds cannot be sown in the fertile soil in the spring. This, in turn, leads to minimal crop yield. When yield is low, there is not enough food to store for the dry season, which runs from October to January. The same cycle repeated over consecutive years has brought about the present food crisis.
Many of those impacted are children and young adults. For the young population, fighting over food supplies fuels the hostilities. Looting of food stores is a common form of violence.
When the only source of food and wages is the militia, South Sudanese youth face a decision: either struggle to feed yourself or join a militia. This problem that keeps the conflict growing is physical insecurity. With no protection from violence and no guarantees for the futures of their families, youth take up arms in order to protect themselves and their families.
Nutrition is especially important for young minds. At Marial Bai, our feeding program provides students with three meals everyday – much more than they are served at home, where our poorest students would eat only once per day. The feeding program is the most expensive part of running the school.