UN World Food Programme

South Sudan: Hunger Mounts As Conflict Disrupts Markets

Elisabeth Nyanchuit and her children, uprooted by the violence in Panyijar, are now living in a hut made of reeds in Ganyiel. Copyright: WFP/George Fominyen

The ongoing conflict in South Sudan is uprooting families and paralysing the food markets they depend on. Among the thousands forced to flee their homes is Elizabeth Nyanchuit, who trekked for 10 hours with her children and neighbours to find safety. She is now living in a hut made of reeds in Ganyiel, a rural community in the country's northern Unity State.

GANYIEL – When fighting broke out in the town of Panyijar in South Sudan’s Unity State, Elisabeth Nyanchuit realised that the conflict that had engulfed the world’s newest nation was now at her doorstep.

“Houses were being burned down, there was shooting, we had to leave,” Nyanchuit said, recalling how she quickly assembled her six children and joined a group of alarmed neighbours, also desperate to escape the violence. They trekked for 10 hours to find safety near the village of Ganyiel, tucked away in Unity State's swampland.

While Ganyiel offers relative calm and its people are welcoming to those who have fled fighting, the settlement has its own problems. It was hit by severe floods last year. The water washed away crops and left the residents without a harvest.

The population relies heavily on markets for food. Supplies are brought in mainly by river, along the White Nile. But the river routes have been disrupted since conflict broke out across the country last December. Since then it has been impossible for supplies to reach the village.

“We arrived here with nothing and there is nothing here… no food to eat,” Nyanchuit said as she sat with two of her children in front of their makeshift shelter, a hut made of dried reeds.

Empty markets

Most of the stalls at Ganyiel's local market are bereft of food commodities. Occasionally you can find sun-dried fish displayed on the bare earth.

A joint report by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) found that the States most affected by the conflict (Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity) were also the most food insecure prior to the conflict. These are also the areas with the highest deficits in cereal production -- large amounts must be trucked in to supply markets. Even in good times, people in these states spend most of their income on food.

The displaced people like Elisabeth have settled in a hamlet which is a 10-minute canoe ride from Ganyiel market. For some of the time, they have had to survive on wild fruits and a crop locally referred to as 'water lily'.

“You have to wade in neck-deep water to pick the water lily,” said Anna Nyakun another IDP who fled from Panyijar in February.

“When you pick a lot, you can boil it," she says, explaining that it tastes better cooked, even though it loses bulk. "But right now, I don’t have enough. And I’m hungry. I cannot wait.” As she said this, she bit into one the raw, fruit-like plants.

Airdrops and airlifts

Relief spread among newcomers and longtime residents when a mobile response team from WFP landed in Ganyiel in late March. WFP used a combination of airdrops and airlifts to stock up food in this remote and often inaccessible location, distributing to 25,000 people who had been displaced or affected by the conflict.

“The crisis is hurting food security in South Sudan in part because of disruption to trade routes and food markets as our team witnessed in Ganyiel,” said WFP Country Director Chris Nikoi. “We are working around the clock with our partners to provide urgently needed assistance,” he added. Funding for the operation has come from USAID Food For Peace, along with Canada, Switzerland, Italy and the Republic of Korea.

WFP will continue using airdrops and airlifts, as well as land transport using trucks, to get food supplies to the displaced people.

We have provided lifesaving food assistance and nutrition support to nearly 800,000 people in South Sudan since the crisis began in mid-December, including more than 450,000 people displaced or directly affected by the conflict. Food assistance has also gone to another 335,000 people enrolled in existing projects for refugees or other vulnerable groups. The goal is to scale up assistance to support 2.5 million people in South Sudan over the coming months.