Thousands of South Sudanese families eating weeds and water lilies to survive, as a terrible man-made famine hit the country. The UN declared a famine in parts of South Sudan a week ago, but unfortunately, the hunger affecting an estimated 100,000 people is not being caused by adverse climate conditions.
But by more than three years of conflict, which has disrupted farming, destroyed food stores destroyed and forced people to flee recurring attacks. Food shipments have been deliberately blocked and aid workers have been targeted.
The constant need to escape the war means people are unable to plant or harvest crops, and their livestock is often looted by armed men.
With their livelihoods destroyed, people are reduced to gathering wild plants, hunting and waiting for emergency food supplies that come too rarely and are frequently inadequate.
Confirming the development, the spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP), George Fominyen, said:
“What we’ve seen is a lot of people coming from the islands. They have been living on water lilies, they have been living on roots, from weeds in the Nile, at most they eat once in a day.”
The country’s commissioner Majiel Nhial, said when villagers received food aid in 2016, they were attacked. He also added that “men in uniform looted and burnt homes.
“We lost all our properties, cows and our houses were looted. We were attacked, women were raped and girls abducted.”
Oil-rich South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, plunged into civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir fired his Deputy, Reik Machar.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 was never fully implemented. As recently as December, the members of yet another 56,000 households were forced to flee to the safety of the swamps when yet another government offensive reached the area.
Since then, fighting had disorganised the country along ethnic lines, inflation topped 800 percent in 2016, while war and drought paralysed agriculture.
The women were among a crowd of 20,000 people that emerged from the swamps and assembled at the rebel-held village of Thonyor, in Leer county, when they heard the United Nations was registering people for emergency rations.
Some families received fishing nets and rods from aid workers to keep them going until food arrived.
Outside the famine’s epicentre in the northern Unity State, there are nearly five million people who also need food handouts, mostly in areas where the fighting has been fiercest.
But the biggest issue has been insecurity in some of those areas which have made accessibility very difficult.
A report released by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), last month had named South Sudan among four countries most likely be affected by famine in 2017. Other countries which made it on the list include Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia.
In the report the agency, which is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), also estimated that 70 million people across 45 countries will require emergency food assistance in 2017. It gave persistent conflict, severe drought and economic instability as reasons for the famine.