South Sudan has faced multiple hunger crises throughout its 11 years of independence due to a combination of factors including the effects of COVID-19, years of climatic shocks (floods, dry spells, and droughts), and conflict, which is forcing families to flee their homes. This has left the nation ranked among the world’s hungriest countries.
Currently, about 7.7 million people, or 63 percent of the population, face acute food insecurity. The problem is exacerbated by critical aid funding shortages, in part due to rising global food prices because of the war in Ukraine - shortages that have forced NGOs to cut back food distributions and school meal programmes.
“Children are the ones suffering the most in this crisis, mainly girls,” explains Mary Nyanagok, a gender and protection officer for NGO Plan International, which provides food assistance for tens of thousands of people in South Sudan. “With more than half of the population facing high risk of acute food insecurity, we need to act fast before it is too late.”
When food is scarce, girls often eat least and eat last, the NGO says.
Women and girls account for 70 percent of the world’s hungry. And as families and communities come under strain, girls are more likely than boys to be taken out of school, and will be at risk for early and forced marriage, gender-based violence (GBV), sexual exploitation and unwanted pregnancy.
The food crisis affecting families has resulted in many children having to rely on the school meal programmes - usually provided by NGOs, with main funding from the World Food Programme (WFP) - to have at least a second meal a day. However, due to country-wide funding cuts, NGOs have been forced to limit programmes to a smaller number of schools. Although NGOs are working to secure funding from new sources to reach more families, the cuts mean that many schools cannot offer meals at all.