In its fifth year of an almost incomprehensibly violent civil war, South Sudan is now grappling with severe food shortages, which according to the Associated Press, have put 1.25 million people on the brink of starvation.
Citing U.N. statistics, the AP reports that if fighting continues at this pace, half of the country’s population of 11 million will be “severely food insecure.” They are also facing increased brutality from both state and non-state players in the fight.
South Sudanese troops have rejected accounts of violence and abuse, but rights groups and humanitarian agencies have both said that such incidents are common, and that rebels and government soldiers alike use food as a “weapon of war.”
Funding for food aid in South Sudan has been running low for some time, with the U.N. food program saying in May that the country was close to an “abyss.” Well aware of when the famine will hit the tipping point, the United States is helping fund food aid, but under the administration of President Donald Trump, that aid comes with extra strings attached.
On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that the United States would cut funding to any U.N. member state voting to nullify his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The U.N. General Assembly held the vote on Thursday, with 128 countries voting in favor of nullifying Trump’s decision. Nine countries voted against the motion, standing with Trump — South Sudan was among the 35 countries who abstained from the vote.
Fighting in South Sudan started in December 2013 between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to Riek Machar, Kiir’s former vice president. Kiir blames Machar for launching a coup against him — a charge Machar denies.
Rights groups are calling for the protection of civilians, who essentially have nowhere to go, and are largely hiding the bush and risking coming out primarily for sporadic food aid — every 60 days — distributed by the U.N.’s food program.
“The civilians are caught in a deadly circle and they’re certainly not being protected,” Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser, told the AP.
But relief workers say the food distributed every other month is only enough to last one month, with one worker saying he has seen “old people collecting grains that fell on the ground out of the bags.”