South Sudan's famine swells Ethiopian refugee camps

Africa plagued by the lingering effects of the drought caused by the El Niño climate phenomenon on harvests in 2016, is once again having to deal with a terrible food crisis, which is dragging several sub-Saharan countries to the brink of famine.

A boy watching the packages containing basic necessities launched by the United Nations, near the village of Rubkuai, in northern South Sudan. Credits Siegfried Modola, Reuters/Contrasto
A boy watching the packages containing basic necessities launched by the United Nations, near the village of Rubkuai, in northern South Sudan. Credits Siegfried Modola, Reuters/Contrasto

The confirmation of the extreme gravity of the situation comes from the last quarterly report Crop Prospects and Food Situation, published by FAO, in which it is highlighted that "although the global food supply conditions are robust, but access to food has been dramatically reduced in areas suffering civil conflicts, while drought conditions are worsening food security across swathes of East Africa."

To work out in greater detail the extent of emergency in place, it is important to note that since 2007, the "state of famine" is proclaimed as part of a worldwide ranking systemdeveloped by various humanitarian agencies. It is the IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) a set of standardized tools that aims at providing a "common currency" for classifying the severity and magnitude of food insecurity.

According to this standard, the famine was officially proclaimed when 20% of the population of a region has very limited access to basic nourishment, when the death rate exceeds two out of 10 thousand per day and acute malnutrition affects more than 30% of the population.

The United Nations, on 20 February, have formally recognized the famine in southern Sudan, indicating that in Leer and Mayendit Counties, part of former Unity State, 100 thousand people could die of hunger. The South Sudanese who to escape the tribal motivated violence have left their country are 1.6 million, out of a population before the conflict erupted reached six million.

This huge mass of displaced people poured into the surrounding region, which does not have sufficient resources to support an exodus of such magnitude, it produced the third crisis on a world scale for the number of refugees, after those of Syria and Afghanistan.

The emergency in place created a significant increase of the displaced and the hungry in all refugee camps in East Africa, where the situation is becoming extremely difficult, especially in Ethiopia, the African country that hosts the largest number of refugees (800 thousand according to the latest UNHCR estimates).

UNHCR, since the beginning of March, has detected the presence of over 356 thousand South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopian camps in the Gambella region and a net increase in the number that is crossing the border with Ethiopia, fleeing the civil war and now even famine.

The daily arrival rate has significantly jumped from 103 people in January and 199 in February to 660 so far in March. Between 1 and 11 March 2017, 7,258 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in Ethiopia'sGambella region. Of these, 3,967 have come in the week of March 6 to 11, representing a daily average arrival rate of 660 people. The latest influx brought the total number of South Sudanese refugees who have arrived in Ethiopia from September 2016 to 68,858.

Most of the new arrivals have been relocated to Nguenyyiel refugee camp, the last of the eight structures prepared by UNHCR to help those coming from South Sudan.

In the refugees camp are being recorded series criticality. The facility was opened last October to accommodate about 4,500 refugees, after the other fields in the Gambella region, Tierkidi, Jewi and Kule had exhausted their receptivity.

So far in Nguenyyiel they arrived about 30 thousand South Sudanese refugees, but the number could rise significantly within the next month, while in the field becomes increasingly problematic the insufficient provision of health facilities and the water shortage.

Between 1 February and 11 March 2017, a total of 12,828 refugees have crossed Pagak, a city of the South Sudan border, which continues to be the main point of access through which the South Sudanese refugees entering Ethiopia.

According to the latest figures released by UNHCR, 65% of the total registered newcomers to Pagak, are children, including 15,488 unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

Dismays, that in such a situation, the South Sudanese Labour and Public Service minister has increased from 100 to up to 10 thousand dollars the cost of work permits for foreign aid workers, imposing heavy taxation for each cooperating international NGOs working on site.

An initiative to offset the sharp decline in oil revenues during last two years, which have seriously damaged the state coffers, almost totally dependent on revenue derived from crude oil.

A foolhardy measure thatJoel Charny, the director of the Norway Refugee Council USA, which has an office in Juba, defined "The wrong measure at the wrong time, which came into force in a country where 100 thousand people are starving and another 1 million considered on the brink of famine."


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