As anticipated, South Sudan remained in the grip of a serious humanitarian crisis through the first quarter of 2019. The effects of years of conflict, displacement and lack of basic services continued to be felt throughout the country. Some 7.2 million people needed assistance, up from 7.1 million estimated in the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview.
The prolonged disruptions to food production meant that hunger continued to rise across South Sudan. Health risks grew, with a high risk of Ebola Virus Disease crossing over from neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. There was also a clear rise in measles outbreaks compared to 2018.
Sexual and gender-based violence remained a persistent feature of the crisis, exacerbated by incidents of conflict, but reflective of deeply entrenched discriminatory cultural norms and gender inequality.
Fluid population movements defined the first months of the year. The ceasefire in most parts of the country led some displaced people to cautiously explore options to return home, hoping that the possibility of living without fear would eventually come.
However, clashes involving the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, pro-Machar SPLA in Opposition and National Salvation Front in Central Equatoria forced people to flee in some areas internally and across the country’s borders. Intercommunal violence and cattle raids showed a marked increase between January and March and displaced thousands.
The reduction in armed conflict improved the operating environment for humanitarians, and allowed them to move more securely across the country, reaching 2.6 million people in need by the end of the quarter. The gains in humanitarian access on roads and rivers also meant that aid stocks could be replenished in the dry season, reducing the need for expensive airdrops once the rainy season was expected to begin in May.
Rising food insecurity
Hunger deepened through the first quarter. Analysis released in February 2019 by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) found that national and localized conflicts, related displacement, economic crisis and humanitarian access challenges continued to drive food insecurity.
The prolonged disruptions to national cereal production, depletion of livestock and constraints to people’s livelihoods meant that fewer families knew where their next meal would come from. Communities showed increasing vulnerability as food stocks dwindled in local markets, while prices rose in advance of the lean season which historically runs from May to August. Conflict also impacted negatively on households’ access to other food sources, such as wild foods and fish.
In January, 6.2 million people – 54 per cent of the population – were estimated to face ‘Crisis’ food insecurity (IPC Phase 3) or worse, even in the presence of humanitarian food assistance. Out of these, 1.4 million people faced ‘Emergency’ (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity and 30,000 faced ‘Catastrophe’ (IPC Phase 5). These 30,000 most vulnerable people were found in four counties: Canal/Pigi and Pibor in Jonglei, Panyikang in Upper Nile, and Cueibet in Lakes. The number of severely food insecure people in January was nearly a million people more than the 5.3 million living in the same conditions in January 2018.
The estimated number of severely food insecure people rose to 6.5 million in the February-April IPC projection period; a historical high for that time of the year. This represented 57 per cent of the population, and included 1.6 million people in ‘Emergency’ and 45,000 in ‘Catastrophe’.