The path from famine to genocide

In this photo taken Friday, March 10, 2017, a boy named Giel wears a small white bracelet on his ankle indicating that he's just finished treatment at an outpatient therapeutic program, as he stands on the outskirts of Udhaba, near Aweil, in South Sudan. (Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/UNICEF via AP)

South Sudan, the world’s newest country, has been in the middle of a civil war for the past several years. Conflicts between the government and opposition forces were quite frequent, and hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Now, however, the most significant crisis being reported in South Sudan is a famine that currently affects 100,000 people, with 1,000,000 people on the brink of being affected, according to Al Jazeera. With the official declaration of the famine in February of this year, Sudan has joined Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen to make a total of four countries affected by famine due to the drought in the area.

The main issue about these famines are that the drought alone is not the only cause for it. In fact, South Sudan has quite fertile land, and according to one U.N. official, the country has the resources and climate to feed itself. Instead, the famine is even more so driven by the civil war, which has affected the lives of millions of civilians. The Washington Post reports government and rebel forces alike have targeted civilian areas, performing cattle raids, destroying agricultural areas and leaving people homeless.

Man-made famines such as the one in South Sudan are not uncommon. Of the four countries in the area in which a famine was officially declared, Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan have been determined by the United Nations to be “man-made food crises” that were caused by human conflicts, according to Al Jazeera. Unfortunately, this means that these famines cannot be treated simply as food shortages caused by agricultural failures or climate conditions. South Sudan’s famine is a byproduct of the nation’s civil war and must be treated as such if there is to be any hope of properly addressing it and finding solutions, especially because the causes of the famine are so complex. If not, the U.N. has warned that South Sudan could be at risk of genocide.

Both the government and the rebel forces have destroyed agricultural areas and halted production, which has caused severe inflation in the price of food. According to Al Jazeera, prices have increased by 800 percent, and many people are unable to afford food. But this is not the only way the war has perpetuated the famine. Both opponents have limited humanitarian aid from reaching those affected, either by blocking food from being distributed or placing constraints on aid. Even for the aid that can make it through, it is difficult for humanitarian organizations to work with the parties in control because of the political instability in the region. Meanwhile, South Sudan President Salva Kiir has effectively ignored the plight of these starving civilians, failing to acknowledge the crisis and refusing to take responsibility for the South Sudanese people. The country’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Joseph Moum Malok, even said that the government “will spare no efforts to help address the situation and calls upon the international community to help address this urgent matter.”

According to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the U.N. needs $4.4 billion in aid to counter the famines in Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. While many groups have responded to this call, their responses may be in vain if the aid cannot reach the citizens of these countries.

Therefore, the most important step in addressing this issue right now is to put pressure on the South Sudanese government and rebels to reach a peace agreement. With more than 250,000 malnourished children and one million people at risk of starvation, South Sudan’s people will need an organized and stable government to help distribute aid and reduce the impact of the famine. Yes, in the short term, attempts to send humanitarian aid to the country must continue to prevent further suffering, but in the long run, only the end of this civil war will bring the people of South Sudan the relief they need. If the government and rebels continue to ignore the plight of the starving masses, what began as a famine could easily become a genocide.


Alex Oliveira is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.