Southern Sudan Needs to Boost Agriculture to Ease Hunger Crisis, UN Says

Southern Sudan should invest in agriculture to feed its people and help ease a humanitarian crisis gripping the oil-rich region, the top United Nations humanitarian official said.

Failed rains, poor harvests, cattle raids, and population displacements have compounded the region’s chronic poverty and underdevelopment to create a “toxic mix,” John Holmes said yesterday in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el-Ghazal state. That has led to “severe food insecurity and very alarming rates of malnutrition, particularly among children.”

Southern Sudan has the highest maternal mortality and lowest immunization rates in the world, according to the United Nations. The number of “severely food insecure people” in the region rose to 1.5 million this year from a million in 2009, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“But what we’re seeing is a spike which is what’s worrying us,” Holmes said. He cited studies showing that acute malnutrition rates are above the so-called emergency threshold of 15 percent.

Southern Sudan is scheduled to vote in January on whether to secede from the rest of Sudan. The referendum is part of a 2005 peace agreement between the mostly Muslim north and the south, where Christianity and traditional beliefs dominate. The accord ended a 21-year civil war, the longest-running in Africa, during which 2 million died.

Peace Process

“Unless addressed, the humanitarian crisis in Southern Sudan could jeopardize the final stages of the peace process,” OCHA said in a briefing paper handed to reporters.

Oil fields in Southern Sudan account for most of the nation’s oil output, which, at 480,000 barrels a day, is the third-biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Holmes said he and Southern Sudan’s vice president, Riek Machar, discussed the need for people in the region to boost agricultural output and for investment projects.

“The government has to be in the lead,” he told reporters today in the semi-autonomous region’s capital, Juba.

Machar said the government will spend $35 million on food relief and pledged that long-term agricultural development is a government priority, without providing specifics.

“Agriculture is certainly possible here,” Holmes said yesterday in Wau. “There’s no shortage of water or fertile land.”

Violence

Cattle theft and ethnic clashes are compounding the crisis in the region. OCHA said that on May 3 and 4, raiders captured 30,000 head of cattle in Warrap state, leaving 8,250 people without their only source of livelihood.

Ethnic clashes and cattle raids have claimed 612 lives and forces 72,464 people to flee their homes this year, according to OCHA.

Anging Mapuol, a mother waiting with her baby outside a World Vision-run nutrition center in Warrap town, said all her cows were taken in a raid last year and she had no food.

People haven’t been able to grow food after they fled their homes because of the cattle raids, said Yeer Yal, a mother who walked for a whole day to reach the Warrap town nutrition.

During his inaugural address on May 21, the region’s first elected president, Salva Kiir, promised to direct the region’s oil wealth to generate a “rural transformation” in Southern Sudan.

Holmes urged international donors to provide assistance to the region.

Donor nations have contributed 26 percent of the $530 million in humanitarian aid requested for Southern Sudan this year, according to OCHA spokesman Samuel Hendricks.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Boswell in Juba at aboswell2@bloomberg.net; Maram Mazen in Juba via Cairo at mmazen@bloomberg.net.

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