South Sudan Could Be Facing an Ethnic Civil War and a Food Crisis at the Same Time

How It Works
April 23 2014 3:51 PM

The Coming Food Crisis in South Sudan

482045845-south-sudanese-refugees-queue-for-food-rationing-during
South Sudanese refugees queue for food at the Kule refugee camp near the Pagak Border Entry point in the Gambela Region of Ethiopia, on April 2, 2014.

Photo by Zacharias Abubeker/AFP/Getty Images

South Sudan’s government says the death toll of a massacre last Tuesday in the town of Bentiu is now over 400. The massacre was just the latest manifestation of violence that began last December as a political feud between President Salva Kiir and ousted Vice President Riek Machar, exposing a rift between their respective Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups. More than 1 million people have been displaced since the fighting began last December and the violence has sharply escalated in the past two months.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

The U.N. has accused Machiar’s forces of carrying out the massacre, targeting civilians based on ethnicity and using a local FM radio station to broadcast hate speech in the area.  

Advertisement

Machiar has denied involvement. The U.N.'s top humanitarian official the country, meanwhile, called the massacre, particularly the broadcast of hate speech that helped spur it, a “game changer”:

He said thousands of civilians were now streaming to the UN base in Bentiu fearing that more violence was imminent. The cramped base holds 25,000 people and has very little water and only one latrine per 350 people.

The country is seemingly on the verge of collapse, and the violence is taking on an explicitly ethnic character, but the biggest threat may be still to come. A report issued yesterday by Oxfam and more than a dozen other humanitarian agencies warned that “up to 7 million South Sudanese people are at risk of severe food insecurity in 2014-2015”:

For farmers, the last few months have been disastrous. With rains underway in the southern regions, and imminent in other places, planting is not on track, and a significant food shortage is anticipated this year. Countless people have already lost cattle due to raiding, disease, and abandonment while fleeing conflict. With 3.7 million people already in need of immediate assistance, this is likely to trigger an even larger food crisis; activities that people usually engage in before the rainy season and in preparation for the lean season have become impossible.
Planting requires people, seeds and equipment to be in the right place at the right time during the planting season of April and May. This has not happened this year due to conflict displacing people, agricultural equipment being destroyed or stolen, and low availability of seeds due to crisis related consumption.

The fighting has also destroyed many markets, and food aid has been stolen throughout the conflict.

“While it's not yet clear whether a full-blown famine will emerge, a significant food and nutrition crisis is underway right now,” the report concludes. As past crises have amply demonstrated, food insecurity and political instability can be mutually reinforcing.

The crisis in the world’s newest country seems to be entering a dangerous new phase. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 1:52 PM Julian Casablancas’ New Album Sounds Like the Furthest Thing From the Strokes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.