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South Sudan: food shortages raise tensions and force more people into exile

Briefing notes

South Sudan: food shortages raise tensions and force more people into exile

21 March 2014 Also available in:

UNHCR is gravely concerned about new tensions arising from lack of food in Maban County, in South Sudan's volatile Upper Nile state. Local residents demanded that some 60,000 refugees in Yusuf Batil and Gendrassa camps leave within two months. Hostilities have spread to Doro and Kaya camps.

UNHCR is working with authorities and other humanitarian agencies to diffuse the tensions.

Competition for natural resources - including wood, grass and grazing land - has recently boiled over into "tit-for-tat" attacks, forcing up to 8,000 refugees to flee Yusuf Batil camp. Houses, tents and granaries belonging to refugees and villagers alike were set on fire during the fighting. Although refugees have since returned to the camp, tensions persist. Maban residents living near Yusuf Batil camp have fled, citing fear of further confrontation with refugees who outnumber them.

Since armed conflict between government and rebel forces broke out in South Sudan in mid-December, instability and conflict in the region have disrupted the planting and harvest seasons. At the same time, insecurity along transportation routes has hampered the delivery of food and other humanitarian supplies. The area has also entered the lean season.

During the first week of March refugees across Maban's four camps received a 10-day ration of pulses and oil. Pulses and oil cover only 24% of the daily energy needs of 2,100 kcal. Shortages have left refugees without cereals and salt for more than one month.

Other key non-food items including fuel, essential medicines and core relief items are quickly running out. There is a need to ensure adequate supplies are in place before the onset of the rains or else all deliveries will have to be undertaken by air.

Without enough to eat, refugees have been growing restless. Some have threatened to return to Sudan's Blue Nile State, which they fled because of continuing armed conflict.

Maban County hosts 125,000 Sudanese refugees from Blue Nile state. A third of the refugee population is made up of small children, pregnant and lactating women, elderly and disabled people and the chronically ill. And they are the ones most vulnerable to malnutrition.

The governments of South Sudan and of Ethiopia have agreed to allow humanitarian supplies through Gambella, Ethiopia, which will enable WFP to dispatch much needed food commodities for internally displaced people and refugees in Maban in the coming days.

Meanwhile, insecurity and hunger are forcing more South Sudanese to flee into neighbouring countries.


Ethiopia is currently receiving an average of 1,000 South Sudanese refugees daily. The refugees, mainly women and children, have been arriving in Ethiopia's Gambella Region from Upper Nile and Jonglei states.

The Ethiopian government had already made land available for two new camps in Gambella - the Leitchuor refugee camp opened in mid-January, and Kule refugee camp opened in late February. But Leitchuor, with 30,000 people, has already exceeded its capacity, and Kule is fast approaching its limit of 20,000.

Both sites are covered by elephant grass, which can be used to construct traditional shelters. The land is also suitable for crop production and livestock rearing.

However, refugees still face challenges, including serious health concerns. Many arrive malnourished because of the food shortages in South Sudan and their long and difficult journeys. With WFP and UNICEF, we have established feeding programs to support their recovery.

New arrivals are also vaccinated against polio and measles at the Pagak entry point or in the camps. UNHCR is putting into place child-protection programs, such as family tracing for separated or unaccompanied minors. There are 351 separated and unaccompanied minors identified in Leitchuor camp and 274 in Pagak.

Accessing the new arrivals is, however, difficult and expensive. The western border of Ethiopia is remote and isolated. We are exploring the use of a helicopter to speed up the transfer and delivery of life-saving supplies.


Sudan continues to receive South Sudanese at the rate of approximately 350 per day, with a notable influx into El Liri, in Talodi locality in South Kordofan, over the past week.

The condition of those arriving is dire, as they are coming with almost no belongings. An inter-agency assessment has been requested by the Government to assess and respond to all needs of the new arrivals; humanitarian teams will travel imminently to the locations.

There are now more than 44,000 South Sudanese in Sudan. While most have received food, many cannot cook due to inadequate access to firewood and lack of cooking utensils. Most families rely solely on the distribution of emergency rations.


Uganda hosts the largest population of South Sudanese refugees, with over 82,000 arrivals since mid-December last year. While the daily arrival rate has gone down, we are seeing a growing number of men arriving with their families - a shift from earlier, when men would only escort their wives and children to the border before returning back to South Sudan to look after their property. As the crisis persists, and as coping mechanisms dwindle at home, there are now 45 per cent of men among the South Sudanese refugees.


Over 28,000 South Sudanese have found their way into Kenya. Despite their relatively low numbers, their presence has pushed the Kakuma camp beyond its 150,000 capacity. We are therefore negotiating additional sites, but in the interim we have resorted to using some green spaces to accommodate new refugees.

As in the other neighbouring countries, many of the South Sudanese are arriving in Kenya malnourished. As a first step, we have transferred stocks of therapeutic food from Dadaab camp taco Kakuma and we are planning to extend the blanket feeding program to children up to 59 months old, as opposed to 23 months before.

Overall, more than 200,000 South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries. Over 708,000 others remain uprooted inside South Sudan.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Juba, South Sudan: Teresa Ongaro, mobile: +211 927 770 040

  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune on mobile +41 79 249 34 83