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War and hunger

South Sudan Crisis Watch

The International Rescue Committee provides vital support to South Sudanese who are struggling to recover from decades of civil war and life-threatening food shortages.

What's happening

  • Rising food insecurity is pushing as many as 11,000 people in South Sudan into famine conditions.

  • Years of conflict, an economic crisis, flooding and COVID-19 are forcing more people to go hungry.

  • With more than 60% of the population facing food insecurity, the IRC is calling for a scale-up of aid.

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Country facts
  • Population: 11.2 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 4.8 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 185 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in southern Sudan: 1989
  • People assisted: 1.1 million in 2019

South Sudan crisis briefing

The region of southern Sudan had spent decades in the grip of ongoing conflict before South Sudan gained independence in 2011. The IRC provides lifesaving assistance and humanitarian aid to vulnerable South Sudanese who are trying to rebuild their lives and restore peace.

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What caused the current crisis in South Sudan?

After decades of civil war, southern Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011. The new country, South Sudan, enjoyed two years of fragile peace before political rivalry erupted once again into open conflict in 2013, leaving an estimated 380,000 dead and 2 million displaced. 2.5 million people have been forced to flee in neighboring countries. 

A woman in rural Central Equatoria state, South Sudan. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC

Due to massive shortages, the U.N. Security Council describes the food crisis in South Sudan as the worst in the world, but the omnipresent threat of violence has made it dangerous for aid groups to reach those most in need.

Despite a peace deal signed in October 2018 to form a coalition government, South Sudan remains on the verge of economic collapse and continues to struggle with widespread food insecurity.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in South Sudan?

South Sudan remains one of the poorest and most undeveloped countries in the world. Food shortages caused by fighting and flooding afflict millions of people.

There is also a severe shortage of health care services and professionals. Medical facilities are under-equipped and unhygienic. Since many South Sudanese do not have access to clean water, deadly diseases such as malaria continue to spread.

Women and girls, in particular, are affected by the crisis, many facing violence, abuse and exploitation daily. Thousands lack the care they need to cope with unwanted pregnancies and pregnancy complications.

How does the IRC help in South Sudan?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

A boy fetches water in a camp in Ganyliel
A boy fetches water in a camp in Ganyliel. Clean water is scarce in the area. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC

The IRC has been one of the largest providers of aid in southern Sudan for over 20 years, offering emergency assistance throughout decades of war. While we have been forced periodically to suspend our efforts due to violence, the IRC continues to provide lifesaving support to vulnerable South Sudanese in hard-to- reach areas.

As South Sudan struggles to build a lasting peace, the IRC is focusing our efforts in the Central Equatoria, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity and Lakes states by:

  • expanding the capacity of state clinics and training local health workers to provide basic and reproductive health care;
  • providing medical, psychosocial and legal support to survivors of sexual violence;
  • training community leaders and government officials on the importance of upholding human rights;
  • providing nutrition services and restoring wells and providing sanitation services to prevent the spread of disease;
  • providing returning South Sudanese refugees with emergency aid as well as job and livelihoods training.

What still needs to be done?

Download the IRC's South Sudan strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.

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