Wednesday, December 5, 2012

South Sudanese food crisis rises

By: Victoria Calderon  
Produced and edited by: Kaylyn Hlavaty

Shortly after declaring independence last July, South Sudan faces rising food prices and food insecurity for 2.4 million people.

Senada Kahriman, country director of CHF International in South Sudan said the country is reliant on imported food and cites lack of infrastructure in the country as a cause of the food crisis.

“There is very little local production [of food] and even in locations where food production is high enough to send goods to the market, lack of roads and basic infrastructure makes imported food, majorly from Uganda, easier to access,” said Kahriman.

According to the Malaria Consortium, the twenty-two year civil war that ended in 2005 left the infrastructure of South Sudan in a poor condition. Non-governmental organizations have been left to fill in the gaps while the infrastructure improves.

More than two years after its independence, South Sudan remains to be one of Africa’s least developed countries as indicated by a 2011 report determined by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Oil Production Ceases

In addition, a halt in oil production after disputes with Sudan has left the south without its major source of revenue since January.

"South Sudan derived about 98-percent of its budgetary revenue from oil exports," said George Fominyen, a spokesperson from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Once reliant on agriculture, the country turned to oil as a means of profit. Now, only four percent of arable land in South Sudan is currently under cultivation.

This is also a result of the country's expensive costs to operate the environment, said Kahriman.

It is estimated that 75-percent of former Sudan's oil reserves now remain in the south. A 2005 accord split the oil revenue evenly between the two countries, but this agreement ended with South Sudan's independence.

A breakdown in agreements after the split has suspended the production of oil since January. Plans to reopen the oil fields in September were postponed after Sudan added an addendum to the cooperation agreement.

Sudan has demanded that South Sudan disarm rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement North, which currently operate in two states bordering South Sudan.

Negotiations for the implementation of a cooperation agreement between the two countries are still ongoing.

Food Insecurity Fominyen says, “Food insecurity is persistent in the country with a minimum of ten percent of the population experiencing severe seasonal food insecurity every year over the past five years, regardless of the agricultural season performance.”

The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) monitors trends in staple food prices where food security is vulnerable and has watched South Sudan's steady price increase.

Food prices generally begin to rise as food stores begin to decline in April. However, prices have not stopped rising in South Sudan, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Kahriman expects the resumption of oil production will result in a decrease in food insecurity, as well as the level of inflation in the country.

Fominyen is not convinced there is a trend between a lack of oil production and the rise in food prices, citing that food prices in South Sudan have always been high.

Data collected by USAID does show prices in South Sudan have been rising since as early as January 2008, even before South Sudan declared its independence and oil production was ceased.

Instead, Fominyen said the border closures between South Sudan and Sudan have caused a spike in food prices. Before the closures and South Sudanese independence, as much as 180,000 metric tons of assorted food reached the markets in South Sudan from or through the north. Fominyen said at least 40-percent of that food was sorghum, a grain high in fat and protein.

"Following the border closures...prices shot up."

Lamwalhok Liah, a South Sudanese citizen says he's watched the price of sorghum steadily rise.

"We observed that food prices, especially sorghum and wheat flour prices, in most areas were double what they were at the same periods last year," said Fominyen.

NGO's Struggle to Keep Up With Demand

Non-profit organizations are struggling to keep up with the demand for food. Kahriman said that CHF international has seen the number of people who require food assistance double from 1.2 to 2.4 million people.

The United Nations WFP office in Sudan, however, said their numbers have decreased since South Sudan split from the north. As many as 10 million people needed aid from the NGO at one once before 2011, but WFP now cares for closer to 4.2 million people in Sudan, according to Amor Almagro.

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