If present trends continue, there will be a famine in South Sudan in the coming months. Fighting has disrupted the planting season and efforts by international humanitarian agencies to provide displaced farmers the tools they need to successfully plant and harvest. Planting season ends next month, and agencies are predicting a disaster. A full blown famine is not unlikely at this point.

This is from a joint brief by 21 humanitarian agencies, Loaded Guns and Empty Stomachs, calling for greater international attention to stemming this crisis.

Planting requires people, seeds and equipment to be in the right place at the right time during the planting season of April and May. This has not happened this year due to conflict  displacing people, agricultural equipment being destroyed or stolen, and low availability of  seeds due to crisis related consumption. Many internally displaced people now live either in crowded UN bases (about 75,000) or other locations often unsuitable for food production  (more than 725,000), making them unable to grow crops and consequently dependent upon  food and other aid delivery. The food provided through food aid is often dry food, such as  sorghum, which requires significant cooking, so the distribution of fuel is vital. Women are  almost always tasked with preparing meals, so dry food that requires cooking detracts from  time women and girls can spend on other activities, such as school and vocational training.

It’s worth pointing out that “Famine” has a very specific definition in UN circles. It does not mean simply having too little food. Rather it is a declaration pegged to specific mortality and morbidity indicators.  These are:

1. At least 20 percent of the population has fewer than 2,100 calories of food a day;

2. Prevalence of acute malnutrition must exceed 30 percent of children; and

3. The death rate must exceed two deaths per 10,000 people, or four child deaths per 10,000 people per day.

Once each of these three criteria are met, a famine is declared. The last time this happened was in Somalia in 2011, when fighting between Al Shebaab and the Somali government displaced hundreds of thousands and disrupted a planting season. A report last year found that an astounding 260,000 people are believed to have died as a result of this famine.

That was the first famine in Africa in 30 years,  but UN officials are warning that this could be far worse. And right now, they need is about $230 million  in the next few weeks to help famers through the planting season and preposition food stocks before the rainy season. So far, that money has not been forthcoming. Hundreds of thousands of people may die as a result.

Image credit: Oxfam http://oxf.am/THF

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