South Sudan: The Impact Of Famine And War On The Nation

By: Brittany Jones

Background: South Sudan’s Independence

After six years of war between southern Sudan and northern Sudan, South Sudan became an independent country on July 9, 2011.[1] President Obama and members of the United States Congress recognized South Sudan shortly after its referendum results in February 2011.[2] Prior to South Sudan’s independence, Sudan was involved in two civil wars—the First Civil War spanned from 1956 until 1972 and the Second Civil War lasted from 1983 until 2005.[3] Together, the Sudanese civil wars resulted in hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees and millions of deaths.[4]  The reasons for the civil wars and the formation of the state of South Sudan are more complex than the common explanations and historical differences i.e. conflicts labeled “Arabs versus Blacks, Muslims versus Christians, democracy versus dictatorship, secularism versus theocracy, and finally North versus South.”[5] Sudan’s complicated and complex history of strategic economic underdevelopment of certain regions of the country and political corruption predates British colonialism.[6]

The first few years of independence have been far from peaceful for the country.[7] South Sudan has been ravaged by border disputes, ethnic violence, displacement of families, and a weak economy.[8] The UN Mission has been heavily involved in efforts to restore stability to the region.[9]

In 2013, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit  accused other South Sudanese political leaders—mainly Vice President Riek Machar— of attempting a coup.[10] As a result, President Kiir who is from the Dinka ethnic group fired Vice President Machar who is from the Nuer ethnic group.[11] Tension between ethnic groups increased after the President fired other members of his cabinet.[12] Civil war broke out throughout the country in 2013 and has yet to cease despite a peace deal signed between the followers of President Kiir and former Vice President Machar in 2015.[13]


The Effects of Famine and War

One issue which has exacerbated much of Sudan’s, and now, South Sudan’s conflicts of war is famine. Since its formation, famine has impacted more than one million children.[14] Famines were declared in two counties in South Sudan—Leer and Mayendit.[15] The United Nations estimated that $1.25 billion would be needed to address the effects of famine in South Sudan.[16] The United Nations also estimated that more than 40 percent of the South Sudanese population would experience food insecurity.[17] The famine is believed to be man-made in that the ongoing civil war and the high risks of kidnapping, rape, and murder have prevented civilians from farming because they are forced into hiding.[18] Thus, the flow of goods and services have been so severely disrupted by violence that the people of the nation are starving.[19] 


UN Efforts to Address the Famine

A large and often confusing international question is: who can the people within a nation rely upon for humanitarian help when their own government is in crisis? This question underlies nearly every international humanitarian crisis and immigration policy. One answer is the several agencies that are attached to the United Nations which include: the World Food Program, the World Bank, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the United nation’s Children’s Fund.[20] However, some situations may require more forceful international action by the UN Security Council, especially in regions that are regularly supported by these special agencies.[21] In those scenarios, the UN Security Council—whose permanent members consist of the United States, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom—has many powers including the appointment of special envoys, issuing a ceasefire, or dispatching military action.[22]

The UN Security Council is well aware of the food insecurity that the South Sudanese are facing.[23] Yet, the UN Security Council has failed to gain enough votes to adopt a draft resolution that addresses the ongoing civil war and famine in South Sudan.[24]  In December 2016, the UN Security Council did not have enough votes to impose an arms embargo on Sudan.[25] In August 2017, the President of the Security Council provided a statement urging all parties to the conflict in South Sudan to allow the safe delivery of food and services to the country.[26] Although the concern expressed by the UN Security Council signals a level of stern condemnation of the violence—it is not enough action to support the victims of South Sudan’s famine.  



The crises of famine and civil war in South Sudan cannot be resolved without complex accountability efforts.[27] The failed attempts by the UN Security Council to actively engage in supporting the young country of South Sudan and more importantly, the most vulnerable of its population—the children—provides another example of the weaknesses of international humanitarian efforts.[28] On one hand, there are limits to the intervention efforts that UN can exercise. However, often times, the UN Security Council rarely comes close to those limitations for purely political reasons rather than for humanitarian or ethical reasons.[29]

More than six years after their country’s independence and despite living through multiple civil wars, the children of South Sudan still deserve food security. Without a strategic plan to prevent future man-made famines like this one, the cycle of violent conflict in South Sudan will persist.



[1] Ban congratulates South Sudan on first anniversary of independence, UN News Centre, (last visited Sept. 1, 2017).

[2] Ted Dagne, The Republic of South sudan: opportunities and challenges for africa’s newest country 1 (Congressional Research Service 2011).

[3] Matthew leriche & Matthew arnold, south sudan: from revolution to independence 1 (2012).

[4] Id. at 1-2.

[5]Id. at 5.

[6]Id. at 9.  

[7] UN relief chief warns of looming disaster amid linked crises in Sudan and South Sudan, UN News Centre, (last visited Sept. 1, 2017).

[8]Ban congratulates South Sudan on first anniversary of independence, UN News Centre, (last visited Sept. 1, 2017).

[9] Dagne, supra note 2, at 7-8.

[10] South Sudan President Salva Kiir in profile, BBC (Dec. 23, 2013), (last visited Sept. 1, 2017).

[11] Johan Brosché and Kristine Höglund, Riek Macher: Warlord-doctor in South Sudan, in Warlord democrats in africa: ex-military electoral politics (Anders Themnér ed., 2017).

[12] Profiled: President Salva Kiir, aljazeera (Dec. 29, 2013), (last visited Sept. 3, 2017).

[13] See generally

[14] Famine ‘largest humanitarian crisis in history of UN’, aljazeera (Mar. 11, 2017), (last visited Sept. 3, 2017).

[15] Famine Response and Prevention North-East Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen,

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Jason Beaubien, Why the Famine in South Sudan Keeps Getting Worse, NPR (Mar. 14, 2017, 5:19 PM), (last visited Sept. 3, 2017).

[19] UN relief chief warns of looming disaster amid linked crises in Sudan and South Sudan, UN News Centre,

(last visited Sept. 1, 2017).

[20] Fund, Programmes, Specialized Agencies and Others,  (last visited Sept. 4, 2017).

[21] UN Charter, (last visited Sept. 4, 2017).

[22] United Nations Security Council, (last visited Sept. 4, 2017).

[23] As South Sudan famine ebbs, UN warns millions still face ‘extreme hunger on the edge of a cliff’ (last visited Sept. 4, 2017).

[24] Nikki Haley blames Salva Kiir for ‘man-made’ famine, aljazeera (Apr. 25, 2017), (last visited Sept. 2, 2017).

[25]See generally S.C. Draft Res. (Dec. 23, 2016); Jason Slotkin, Arms Embargo On South Sudan Fails U.N. Vote, NPR (Dec. 23, 2016, 4:45 PM), (last visited Sept. 4, 2017).

[26] See generally

[27] Atrocities will end in South Sudan only when perpetrators ‘face consequences’ – UN rights official, (last visited Sept. 4, 2017).

[28] Slotkin, supra note 25.

[29] Alex Bellamy & Tim Dunne, Elected Security Council Members: Power, Process, Purpose, carnegie council (Oct. 23, 2012), (last visited Sept. 4, 2017).