Fearing Famine in South Sudan, US Commits $95 Million in Aid

April 20, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
Children in Yambio, Western Equatoria, South Sudan

The U.S. pledged $95 million in humanitarian assistance to South Sudan last week in an attempt to avoid mass starvation in the coming summer months for those affected by the country’s conflict. 

South Sudan, which was admitted to the UN as the world’s newest country in 2011, is seeing the highest levels of food insecurity and malnutrition in a decade, which has triggered concern over famine, the U.S. Agency for International Development said. 

The summer months are expected to be particularly brutal, the “most severe on record,” leaving 7 million people (more than a million of which are children) at risk of starvation, according to USAID.

The assistance will help provide emergency food and nutrition assistance, essential health care, shelter, safe drinking water, and sanitation and hygiene services, and it will also aid those who are internally displaced or living as refugees from the country’s conflict with nearby countries, USAID said. When possible, USAID says, they will secure the food from South Sudanese farmers.

Of the total sum of assistance provided by the U.S., $52 million was sourced from USAID and $43 million from the U.S. Department of State.

South Sudan has a long history of political turmoil. Since the outbreak of conflict in December 2013, estimates used by USAID suggest that 400,000 people have died. The fighting has been marked by extreme sexual violence and attacks on civilians. 

Successive peace agreements have failed to produce stability. A peace agreement reached in 2018 finally led to the creation of a transitional government in February 2020, right before COVID-19. 

The WHO reports 114 deaths from COVID-19 in the country, but vaccine access is low. The Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook says that South Sudan had a population of 10.5 million as of last year. According to the World Health Organization, South Sudan had 10,478 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and had administered only 2,089 vaccine doses as of April 19th.

The conflict has led to a lot of displacement as well. As of last year, USAID estimated that 3.9 million people are displaced and another 2.2 million live as refugees in nearby countries.

Some world leaders have embraced the idea that factors like climate change and inequality are making global conflicts like this worse. World leaders have expressed concerns over the spiking rates of global inequality and especially over the effects of climate change in general, which are felt more fiercely by developing countries.

For instance, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva commented in a March presentation that the limited capacity of emerging economies, such as South Sudan, has led to a tiered recovery from COVID-19, in part because they cannot issue debt freely in order to speed up economic recovery, but also because they lack access to vaccines. She also recommended immediate and robust shifts to green infrastructure to mitigate the ravages of climate change, as well as ramping up the rates of vaccine production. Without it, she warned, the global progress in efforts to eradicate poverty could vanish.

At a speech on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in laying out the case for stronger U.S. leadership on climate, acknowledged that climate has the worst effects on countries that can “afford it the least.” The U.S. has reprioritized assistance in general under the Biden administration, as evidenced by the increase in foreign assistance funding in Biden’s fiscal year request for 2022, reversing the Trump administration’s trend of reducing funding in favor of an “America first” approach.

The U.S. played a significant role in the founding of the country, especially during the Bush administration when the country was separated from Northern Sudan. A written statement from USAID characterized this latest humanitarian assistance as part of the ongoing U.S. “commitment” to South Sudan. 

However, the agency remarked, humanitarian assistance alone will not provide a long-term answer, since the drivers of this conflict are complex and long-standing.

“Humanitarian assistance will not solve the conflict, but it is vital to keeping civilians alive,” USAID said. “Ultimately, a political solution is the only way to end the suffering of the South Sudanese people.”

This latest commitment brings the total of U.S. humanitarian assistance to $482 million for the 2021 fiscal year.

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