The United Nations has identified Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia as some of the most acute food insecure countries on planet earth.
The World Food Program 2021 hunger hotspot report warned that families and individuals in those five countries, four of them in Sub-Saharan Africa, were at imminent risk of starvation and death.
The cause of acute hunger differs from country to country. In Yemen, a raging war has left millions of people without basic amenities including food. In Nigeria, key drivers of food insecurity include internal conflict and economic decline, and in Ethiopia, it is caused by conflict, desert locusts, extreme weather and macro-economic challenges. In South Sudan, it is caused by conflict and hunger.
Acute levels of hunger mean children cannot go to school, people are too weak to travel to health clinics and communities are unable to protect themselves, and are more susceptible to sexual violence, corruption, child marriage, and sex trade. Hunger can also be used as a weapon of war.
In South Sudan for instance, Mr. James Duddridge, United Kingdom Minister for Africa at the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, noted during the during the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council that continued violence and starvation were being used as “weapons of war.”
According to the United Nations (UN) World Food Program’s Hunger Hotspots report, South Sudan is the world’s second most needy country, below Yemen, in terms of catastrophic levels of acute hunger, with families at imminent risk of starvation and death. South Sudan is followed by Burkina Faso, northeast Nigeria and others.
“We have worked in multiple countries where conflict is used to either take away food as a resource or to divert it,” explained Marwa Awad, Spokesperson for the UN’s World Food Program in South Sudan. Awad made the comments during an exclusive interview with Kristi Pelzel, Senior Correspondent with Today News Africa in Washington D.C.
Ahead of the July UN Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome, South Sudan hopes to secure bold commitments before the September UN Food Systems Summit in New York. These goals were cautiously supported by Awad, who leaned into sustainability and a multi-step partnership approach.
Awad said the World Food Program in South Sudan is focused on long-term development and resilience building to allow people to grow their own food and define the type of livelihood that can stabilize the country. This sentiment mirrors UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s comments during his statement announcing the UN Food Summit 2021, which is focused on growth and sustainability over just giving. “The Pre-Summit in Italy will be a key moment for mobilizing the bold commitments we need to build sustainable food systems that work for people, planet, and prosperity,” stated Guterres.
The World Food Program statistics report that just ten years after South Sudan gained independence from the Republic of Sudan in 2011, 7.2 million people are acutely hungry within its small population of an estimated 12 million people.
“South Sudanese people want to become independent and don’t want to rely on food rations just because they need it. I have met many people who have told me, can you teach me a skill,” Awad stated to Today News Africa.
Marwa Awad, Spokesperson for the UN’s World Food Programme in South Sudan, called on the international community to help end conflict, stabilizing South Sudan, because violence is a roadblock that must be removed to build the type of programs that will be successful over the long term.