The Current

Famine declared in South Sudan, thousands at risk of starvation

The world’s youngest country is in trouble. The UN has declared a famine in parts of South Sudan where nearly 100,000 people are facing starvation. And after three years of civil war some say the country is also at risk of genocide.
South Sudan, the World's youngest country, faces the first UN-declared famine in six years. (Siegfried Modola/Reuters)

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Thousands are at risk of starvation in parts of South Sudan, according to the United Nations.

The world's youngest country is facing a famine, with many struggling for access to food and water.

People have resorted to eating leaves, Freelance journalist Simona Foltyn tells The Current's guest host Megan Williams. 

"One of the families I spoke to ... had no choice but to pick leaves from the trees and eat those because there was at that time ... no aid."
Juang Gai Vol, 87, who hadn't eaten for three days, lies down at a food distribution site in Padeah, South Sudan, March 1, 2017. (Sam Mednick/AP)

Foltyn says South Sudanese people are getting sick from eating leaves and she even saw one woman collapse from "severe stomach pain."

She wasn't the only woman Foltyn met who resorted to eating leaves.

"Another woman I spoke to, she had actually given birth in a school because she had also run away from fighting," she says.

"And she too was feeding on leaves while breastfeeding her newly born. So it's an unimaginable situation." 

After three years of civil war, South Sudan's conflict is becoming increasingly about ethnic tensions, something Foltyn says is sparking concern over the possibility of genocide. 

"We have seen a lot of communities being targeted based on their ethnicity. We have seen a lot of, you know, women are raped. We have seen a lot of houses burned. And it clearly seems to be you know one ethnic group against the other."

In 2016, the UN issued a genocide warning for the region.

Famine deepens in South Sudan

The National

4 years ago
As the country struggles with an ongoing civil war, its residents suffer from a famine that puts millions in danger. 2:05

For internally displaced people like Monica William, it's hard to tell what's worse — the threat of violence or the possibility of starvation.

"We are just sleeping in the open with these strong winds blowing. We are exhausted and we are hungry. And there's no food here," she says.

"If you have money, you can buy food in the market. But the agencies haven't given us anything. So if you don't have money, you'll go to sleep hungry. If I had money, I'd go back. I don't want to stay here. In my village they are killing people."

For aid organizations, the situation on the ground creates serious roadblocks to delivering supplies.

George Fominyen is a communications officer with the World Food Programme. He tells Williams that the mode of fighting is particularly problematic.

"It is recurrent fighting and breaks ... people have to keep being displaced multiple times. Then we can't reach them to provide regular assistance," says Fominyen.

"It is a catastrophe ... when you don't get to people."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson, Lara O'Brien and Ines Colabrese.