South Sudanese families being pushed to the brink

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN – Skyrocketing inflation, conflict and collapsed markets are pushing people in South Sudan to breaking point as the political deadlock enters its 16th month and families face a second 'lean season' since fighting began, international agency Oxfam warned today.

“What we’re seeing now is families that have spent the past year and a half living on the edge – many have exhausted their food stocks, been displaced from their homes, missed opportunities to plant and farm, and now the economy is showing the strain of a year and a half of conflict,” said Emma Drew, Head of Humanitarian Programs for Oxfam in South Sudan.

Areas affected by the conflict are seeing drastic increases in food prices. In February, cereal prices were estimated  to have shot up by 300% in Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei states. The South Sudanese pound is also depreciating rapidly – while the official rate remains at 3.1 pounds to the US dollar, black market rates are as high as 8.5 pounds to the dollar and rising. The currency depreciated by approximately 26 percent between December 2014 and March 2015 . This is increasing the cost of regional food imports and putting pressure on already stretched household budgets.

“Many people can no longer afford to buy food and other basic essentials; trade in markets has been disrupted, or in many instances, markets have been damaged or destroyed altogether,” said Ms. Drew.

Already, 2.5 million people are facing severe levels of hunger. By June, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) predicts  that more than a million people will join them.

“As the rains set in, reaching people who are desperately in need of aid will become more and more difficult. It’s vital that aid reaches people not just in the camps on UN bases but the millions in need spread out across the country, especially in conflict affected states,” Ms. Drew said. “It’s hard to describe just how difficult it is to provide that humanitarian assistance here. Insecurity due to protracted fighting and poor roads mean that in many places agencies have to fly absolutely everything in, often to airstrips that are easily bogged down by mud and rain - so getting food and essential items in before the rains start is an urgent priority.”

Flexible funding remains key, especially in light of the need to adapt to the changing humanitarian context. In addition to the urgent food aid that will be needed to save lives, donors should also support programmes that develop people’s skills and resilience, and that build on or re-establish markets wherever possible. While the UN appeal for aid in South Sudan has been over half funded, donors must swiftly deliver on the existing commitments. Regional and international governments should use their influence on the government of South Sudan and the opposition to ensure communities can access aid where they are.

“Aid is important and lifesaving but ultimately what people need most is an end to the conflict,” added Ms. Drew. “A real, lasting peace that delivers genuine security and stability will require far more than a power sharing deal between political and military elites. Regional leaders and the international community have an important role in helping communities and the country’s leaders to achieve a lasting peace. Complacency is not an option.”

Contact information

For more information or to arrange an interview contact:
Vanessa Parra in Juba on +1 (202) 496-1196 (office) | +1 (202) 476-0093 (mobile) or South Sudan mobile: +211914986982 or vparra@oxfamamerica.org

Aimee Brown in Nairobi on +254 736 666 663 or abrown@oxfam.org.uk

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.