A Scene Reminiscent of the Somalia Famine…But Taking Place in South Sudan

Renk is just inside South Sudan. It’s the first town Southern Sudanese pass through upon returning to their homeland after years spent in the north. That’s what they thought they would do there, too, simply pass through. But the transit camp at Renk is now overwhelmed with thousands of people. A team from Refugees International visited Renk over the weekend, and reported that the situation is in in so much disarray, numbers are hard to come by. Food prices are up because of a blockade Sudan imposed that is putting the purchase of food out of reach for many. The relief agencies on the ground are doing what they can, but without the World Food Programme and other large agencies, people are going hungry. One returnee told the Refugees International team, “Our people are sick, but not from disease – from no food.”

Renk and its counterpart transit towns, like Kosti, are not the only causes for concern. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is sounding the alarm about the food crisis in two other South Sudanese states, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

What these areas of South Sudan have in common is the restive border with Sudan and it’s that border driving the food crises in Renk, the Blue Nile, and South Kordofan. Underscoring the consequences of these ongoing border disputes, the UN Security Council today took up the issueof Abyei, perhaps the most contentious border region between the two countries. While both countries had agreed to withdraw their troops from Abyei by September 30, both countries failed to meet that deadline. The AFP reports, “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed changing the UNISFA mandate so that it can take up a stronger border observer mission.” According to the head of UN peacekeeping, carrying out a more robust mandate in Abyei would require UN member states to supply four extra helicopters and two planes.

The international community has a chance in South Sudan to avoid a deepening humanitarian crisis. But it will require more than simply food and it will require more than simply peacekeepers. It will require a resolve to act on multiple fronts. South Sudan and Renk need the World Food Program and other agencies, but they also need a long-term and lasting peace along the border. They need swift action and an engaged international community.