South Sudan’s severe economic crisis pushes citizens towards starvation

‘There are some people now who can spend three or four days with no food on their table’

In a market in Renk, northern South Sudan, beside transit centres housing about 20,000 people who have fled Sudan’s war, trader Mathew Kuol stood behind his stall. He was waiting for customers, well aware that many of those walking by were desperate for food, but unable to afford it.

The price he pays for 5kg of sugar had risen from 8,000 South Sudanese pounds (SSP) to 15,000 SSP, he said. To sell it, he splits it into smaller bags of 500g, but his asking price is still out of reach for many.

Flour and charcoal have undergone similar price rises, he said.

Rocketing inflation and food prices are pushing South Sudanese citizens to the brink as the country feels the effects of the war in neighbouring Sudan, which will mark its first anniversary on April 15th.


Even before the latest price rises, nine million people in the landlocked east African country were projected to be in need of humanitarian assistance this year.

John Wulu, the chief editor of Top FM radio station, which is based in the capital, Juba, said South Sudan was “in a critical situation of economic hardship”.

He said the conversion rate of SSP to dollars went from 700-800 SSP per dollar in February to 2,600 SSP per dollar last week. By Wednesday, it had fallen to 1,560 SSP per dollar, after the country’s government made efforts to control black market traders, but the cost of goods has remained unnaturally high, Wulu said.

He believes there are two reasons for this, both related to the war in neighbouring Sudan, which has seen the Sudanese army pitted against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

“Many refugees have come from Sudan and the fighting is still going ... Some of them, they don’t even have food, they don’t even have shelter,” he said. More than 629,000 people have crossed into South Sudan since the war started, 78 per cent of them returning South Sudanese citizens who previously fled civil war there, and the rest Sudanese refugees or displaced people of other nationalities.

The second reason, Wulu said, is oil, and specifically the shutdown of a key pipeline, running through Sudan, on which oil-rich South Sudan is dependent.

Wulu said the quality of life of South Sudan’s citizens was visibly deteriorating. “There are some people now who can spend three or four days with no food on their table. Some of them, they don’t even get water for bathing, because you know our citizens in South Sudan are very poor.”

He said people without cows or goats to sell have no access to the money they need now to survive. “If you are lucky you will [earn] 1000 or 500 South Sudanese pounds [in a day]. That cannot even buy you a sweet or biscuit.”

“There will be victims in South Sudan, because if you don’t get something in the market, you will die. Many people now are dying daily, silently. Some of them are in the village, some of them are in the city.”

He said there had been more robberies in towns and cities, increasing the risk for traders and civilians there. “Our life is in danger, even if you have money,” he said.

South Sudanese civilians suffered through a civil war, beginning in 2013, which was estimated to have killed almost 400,000 people by 2018.

Despite a peace deal, violence continues in many areas, which is stopping people from being able to farm, Wulu said. He called agriculture the “backbone” of the economy, but said “rebels” and armed “cattle thieves” meant it was not safe to practise it. The result is more people moving to urban areas for safety, but with no way to survive there.

In the years after independence in 2011, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that 80 per cent of the country’s population was dependent on livestock, but the effects of conflict, as well as climate change, were causing competition for resources.

Wulu said the government needed to push for further “general disarmament so that there will be no firearms in the hands of civilians”. That would enable agriculturalists to work rural lands, and improve the safety in urban areas, he said.

He said it continued to be important for the “international community and NGOs working in Sudan” to provide food aid, not just for “refugees” but for “the poor families in South Sudan”.

South Sudan, with a population of about 11 million, is scheduled to have its first elections since independence in December, though various prerequisites have not been met. Vice-president Riek Machar last month suggested that the elections be postponed again, with his former war rival, president Salva Kiir, responding that they should go ahead, as politicians should “not to cling to power”.

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