Food Aid Saves South Sudan From Famine, But Civil War Rages On

Food aid is the only thing keeping tens of thousands of people alive in South Sudan. Since the civil war broke out in December, 2013, around 10,000 people have died and almost two million have been displaced by the violence. The U.S. is frustrated, and may expand sanctions against Sudanese officials who are dragging out the peace process.

South Sudan had only existed as a country for two years before it succumbed to civil war. The fight is between President Salva Kiir and his biggest political rival and former deputy Riek Machar, but civilians have taken most of the damage. According to the UN, both sides have engaged in extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, other forms of sexual violence, and attacks on hospitals.

The rival factions have continued to stockpile weapons and consolidate their respective power bases with little sign that they're ready to end the war. In the meantime, farmers in South Sudan have been forced from their homes. Since they are unable to grow or maintain themselves, various charitable organizations have stepped in to prevent tens of thousands of more deaths.

For the year of 2014, South Sudan received $1.2 billion worth of food assistance, making it the largest single country aid program currently in operation according to the UN. Yet, the massive outpouring may not be enough.

The World Food Programme said in a statement, "The outlook remains grim for early 2015, especially in conflict affected states. Food security may deteriorate sharply early next year as their food stocks run out."

Kiir's South Sudanese government has tried to mix messages and downplay the humanitarian crisis that's unfolding under his watch. The agricultural department issued the following statement.

"There is no famine in South Sudan, Food security across the country has begun improving and is expected to continue on a positive trend through December."

The government is technically correct about the famine, but that's more a matter of political semantics. An official famine in South Sudan would require three conditions: 20 percent of households have to face food insecurity and have a limited ability to deal with the shortage, acute malnutrition has to affect 30 percent of the people, and 2 out of every 10,000 people have to die from hunger per day.

South Sudan luckily isn't quite there yet.

With the world attention still firmly focused on the Middle East and Ukraine, there's little attention left for the African crisis. Nevertheless, the United States has said that it will expand sanctions against those individuals who continue to slow down the peace process.

A U.S. official said, "If the warring parties do not take this more seriously then we have to levy for more serious sanctions on them."

However, like with Russia, it's questionable if sanctions alone will bring real change to South Sudan.

[Image Credit: USAID Africa Bureau/Wikimedia Commons]