Thirty to forty percent of body weight loss. That’s what doctors define as starvation. Beyond that threshold, death is almost certain. As your stomach empties, the body consumes whatever else is available – fat, then tissues. Death slowly settles in.
The UN has just declared famine in parts of war-torn South Sudan. Some 100,000 people face starvation, and a million more may die from hunger if aid does not come quick. A million of children across the country are already acutely malnourished, in what the UN is calling the “worst hunger catastrophe” since civil war erupted there three years ago.
While the causes of famine are complex in a place like South Sudan, the current situation is clearly man-made: a result of the conflict, warring parties blocking access for aid workers, and large-scale human rights violations that have torn the country apart. It underscores the complete failure by government, opposition forces, and international actors to end the cycle of abuse.
Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese have fled the country to seek safety. Currently some 4,000 South Sudanese cross the border to Uganda every day. Throughout the country, roughly 3.3 million people - more than a quarter of the population - have been displaced by the war and abuses.
These abuses have been extensively documented: large-scale unlawful killings of civilians across the country, including Unity state; the forced recruitment of child soldiers; and abusive counterinsurgencies marked by extrajudicial killings, rapes, arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearance in Yambio, Wau and most recently in Yei.
Yet, time and again, both sides have shrugged off international pressure, and spared themselves from any meaningful consequences, be they diplomatic, financial or legal. In December, the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution imposing a punitive arms embargo and additional individual sanctions on senior commanders. Meanwhile, the warring sides are free to continue to their devastating abuses with complete impunity.
The people of South Sudan were abandoned by their leaders a long time ago. The UN Security Council and regional organizations have failed civilians. Today’s famine is the price of inaction.