South Sudan is a country that has been torn apart by war and internal conflict for over 20 years, having only brief interludes of peace. The violence continues today, pushing many people to flee to nearby countries like Uganda and Kenya. However, the violence disrupts more than just daily lives. Over one million South Sudanese children do not attend primary school. Many have fled to Sudanese refugee camps where an education is not offered, and for those who stayed, the conditions are too dangerous to hold or attend classes.
Poverty in Sudan is widespread and varies according to region, with ducxisting conflicts as well as economic and social inequalities contributing to the large number of impoverished people. Inequality in education and limited access to health care, clean water, sanitation, resources and income has also impacted poverty in the country, especially in North Sudan.
Although Sudan still ranks among the poorest countries in the world, it has also seen great economic progress. Since 1990, Sudan’s extreme poverty rate declined from 85 percent to 46 percent and continues to be on the decline today, according to the results from the Millennium Development Goals.
The reality, however, is that one out of two people living in Sudan is impacted by poverty; meaning, he or she does not have the means to buy food or the ability to properly care for him or herself. Results from the MDGs reveal that an estimated 15 million people all over Sudan are considered poor.
Causes of Poverty in Sudan
Currently in North Sudan, an estimated 44.8 percent of the population lives beneath poverty lines, with poverty rates higher in rural areas (55 percent) than in urban areas (28 percent). High unemployment rates (17 percent) as well as low employment opportunities contribute to the economic disparity found in many regions of Sudan.
Additionally, the expanding population along with climate change have affected the agricultural sector, which in turn impacts food security and the livelihoods of people living in Sudan. For rural populations, unreliable rainfall, low productivity and small landholdings are major contributors to poverty in the area. These factors have also impacted malnutrition and children who are underweight. One third or 32 percent of children who are under the age of five is underweight as a result of chronic malnutrition.
Areas that are considered to be most vulnerable to poverty are regions that have been affected by isolation. A large majority of settlements in Sudan exist far away from main urban cities and have limited access to social services. Additionally, isolated territories are harder to track in terms of poverty and progress. The amount of people living in poverty in isolated regions is not completely known and is difficult to estimate as well.
However, what is known, is that there is a substantial amount of people living in those territories that suffer from hunger and disease. The poorest areas that are largely impacted by isolation include Southern Sudan, Southern Darfur, White Nile and Blue Nile.
Although there are many factors contributing to poverty in Sudan, internal conflicts are further fueling the volatile state of the region. Sudan has had over 20 years of internal conflict that cost an estimated 1.5 million people their lives and devastated the population as a whole. The civil conflict emerged from social and political inequalities and a neglect of the rural regions. Unfair distribution of land and land reforms, as well as misguided resources for urban and rural developments, have caused conflicts in the country. Despite signing a peace treaty a few years ago, the country is still suffering from the devastation the conflict caused to its citizens.
However, overall, poverty in Sudan has been on the mend as reforms and aid targeted through the MDGs have helped improve poverty rates in the region.
– Nada Sewidan
Sudan is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, but poverty desperately affects the population of 44 million.
The city of Khartoum is notorious for its destitution. The population has tripled over the past 20 years; however, the government has not implemented any formal accommodation for this influx. The current government is not a sufficient resource to address poverty in Khartoum as it lacks information and the capacity to combat the issue.
It is recorded that 180,000 people died of poverty before 2004 when the conflict finally gained international attention, with the U.N. warning on “atrocities” and Powell declaring it a genocide. Poverty linked with conflict has killed several million people in Sudan and South Sudan.
The conflict between Sudan and South Sudan is a significant source of poverty for the area. The tension over oil fields has created an unequal wealth distribution between the north and the south.
According to Poverties.org, “Even Khartoum remains pretty opaque regarding its resource management and never appeared ready to give up its oil revenues that easily. Injustices, grudges and protests are likely to keep on fueling armed conflicts, thus threatening the stability of the two countries and throwing countless more people into poverty in Sudan (North and South). Little effort has been made to stop the growing, oil-induced social turmoil and corruption that affect the whole region…The most simple thing to do would be to fund some social assistance to overcome land issues and poverty in Sudan and thus the extent of social unrest.”
Poverty is an undeniable threat to the existence of humanity in the 21st century. The global commitment to promoting adequate standards of living for all people is emphasized in the Millennium Development Goals, which sought to reduce poverty by half by 2015. Poverty cannot be overcome with a singular solution as it is very multidimensional. Poverty is experienced differently across time, space, culture and even gender. For example, poverty is most severe during specific weather seasons, while other times poverty is more static.
According to research conducted at The University of Khartoum, a “serious campaign against poverty necessitates opening up the issues to public debate, raising people’s awareness of them and directing the media to that end.” The overwhelming axiom is that South Sudan suffers from chronic underdevelopment and lacks the administrative capacity to address local and domestic needs. A lack of secure funding for the country, accompanied by failures of governance, have led to local level tensions and competition for limited resources (including but not limited to water, land, cattle, food and education.)
There are multiple actors required to adequately address destitution in Khartoum including governmental and non-governmental groups, private actors, communities and the youth. Existing institutions require additional funds, freedom and credibility. While the situation in Khartoum is stark, the space for improvement is vast.
Seeking refuge from widespread violence, 40,000 South Sudanese people are living in horrific conditions in a U.N. compound in Bentiu. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported difficult conditions since the camp’s opening nearly four months ago, but the onset of the rainy season in July caused massive flooding throughout the area. Over one thousand makeshift shelters have been flooded, but camp residents are too afraid of the raging civil war to leave. Instead they remain knee-deep in sewage-contaminated water, even going so far as to sleep standing up with infants in their arms.
“Outside we have been destroyed by war. We come here, we have been destroyed by water,” said Mary, an 18-year-old refugee living in the South Sudanese U.N. camp. “We don’t know what to do.” Some have tried to scoop water out of their shelters with cooking pots, or build mud barriers across doorways to prevent flooding—but to no avail.
Due to the sewage-contaminated floodwater, as well as a lack of clean drinking water and latrines, there is a constant risk of infection. This risk is exacerbated by the growing rates of poverty and malnutrition among refugees. More than 200 residents of the camp have died since May, most of them children. And although mortality rates have lowered in the last few weeks, at least one child still dies every day.
Ivan Gayton, emergency coordinator of MSF called for urgent drainage efforts: “It’s difficult to drain here—it’s a large grass swamp—but nevertheless it’s possible.” He added, “There are excavators here, there is machinery here, there are a lot of assets that could actually be deployed to improve conditions within this protection-of-civilians zone.” With a committed and well-planned effort, existing MSF resources could make a profound impact on the state of living conditions for Bentiu residents. In addition, unused dry land in the area immediately outside the camp could be portioned out to those impacted the most by flooding. “There are bits of dry land that can be allocated…. They need to be allocated without delay to the people who are trying to make their lives in this absolutely terrible flooded condition,” said Gayton.
As of yet, little effort has been made toward drainage of the camp. But what is obvious is that the current situation is unjustifiable without immediate efforts to improve conditions. The residents are unable to leave Bentiu because they fear being killed once outside the relative safety of the camp. Most fled ethnically-charged fighting between government forces and rebels under opposition leader Riek Machar in December, and there is no end to the conflict in sight. But the deplorable conditions in the compound are not much better: according to MSF, people should be protected and safe from disease as well as from violence.
Gayton said, “Protection is not really meaningful if the conditions under which you can be protected aren’t even fit for human life, let alone dignity.”
– Mari LeGagnoux
Without any other choice, people are fleeing the country of Eritrea. The Eritrean government has been involved in several forms of human rights violations since 1993, when they broke off from Ethiopia. It is described by Human Rights Watch as “one of the most closed countries” in the world.
Reporters without Borders rank the country last on their freedom index and Amnesty International believes the country has imprisoned more than 10,000 citizens for political reasons since 1993. Despite all these violations, the government claims they have made progress in working to reach six of eight of the U.N.’s anti-poverty goals.
As a result of these rights violations, previous estimates show that Ethiopia had been experiencing a monthly inflow of 2,000 refugees. Italy has experienced an inflow of 13,000 Eritrean refugees since the beginning of the year and Sudan has also seen a rise in those seeking asylum.
More recent estimates by U.N. investigators, however, average the number at 4,000. Investigators describe this 50 percent spike as “shocking” and a sign that the situation has gotten worse since last year’s U.N. report.
Accusations of abuse by the Eritrean government include indefinite service in the country’s army, detainment of citizens without cause, secret imprisonment, torture and forced labor. The government has also enforced guilt by association laws for families of those who flee, resulting in fines or detainment. Many die while in detainment due to appalling living conditions including extreme heat, poor hygiene and very little food.
The path to freedom is a rocky journey often involving the crossing of deserts and seas. Many drown in the sea or die from the extreme heat in the desert, yet their hope and lack of choice drives their journey as they risk life and limb to reach free land.
Poverty provides opportunities for oppression and also creates the conditions necessary for oppression to thrive. When people of the world do not have the resources necessary to retaliate or the power necessary to change policy, they are left with few options. Often, the best choice is to leave, and so they do, often in the face of great danger.
— Christopher Kolezynski
This year, 870 million people in the will face continual, day to day hunger. Ninety-eight percent of these hungry people live in developing countries, even though these countries are the ones producing much of the world’s food.
In October 2013, international humanitarian organization Concern Worldwide published a list of the 10 hungriest countries in the world, most of which were in Africa. The list includes Burundi, Eritrea, Comoros, Timor Leste, Sudan, Chad, the Yemen Republic, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Zambia. Patterns as to why these particular countries are hungry have strong historical correlations.
Here are five reasons why these countries are suffering from hunger.
1. Landlocked countries are resource scarce
Countries like Burundi and Chad are landlocked, and they struggle to connect with the coastal areas of Africa. Landlocked countries as a whole have poor transportation links to the coast, either by their own fault or through developmentally and infrastructurally challenged neighbors. Without access to the coast, it’s difficult to integrate with global markets. Thus, they are also cut off from global flows of knowledge, technology and innovation, and unable to benefit completely from trade. Often, the cost of transportation for importing and exporting raw materials is exorbitantly high. Burundi experiences 6 percent less economic growth than non-landlocked countries in Africa, and as many as 58 percent of Burundi‘s citizens are chronically malnourished.
2. Productive land remains unused
In some countries, land is not being effectively used. In Eritrea, almost a quarter of the country’s productive land remains unused following the 1998-2000 Eritrean-Ethiopian war. The war displaced nearly 1 million Eritreans, leaving the country with a need for skilled agricultural workers, as well as plaguing the lands with mines. There is a lot of potentially fertile land in Africa, but the majority of farmers don’t have the technology or means to use the land to its full value. Because of these discrepancies, incomes remain low.
3. War and violence destroy country infrastructure
Countries with a low level of income, slow economic growth, and a dependence on commodity exports are prone to civil war – and most of the hungriest countries have experienced war and violence for decades. Once a cycle of violence and civil war begins in a country, it’s hard to break the pattern. Timor Leste is still paying for seeking independence from Indonesia, which damaged the country’s infrastructure. Sudan is slowly recovering from two civil wars and war in the Darfur region. Chad has had tensions between its northern and southern ethnic groups for years, which has contributed to its political and economic instability.
4. Extreme climate conditions and climate change
Sometimes, causes for hunger are unavoidable – like weather. The 2011 Horn of Africa drought left 4.5 million people in Ethiopia hungry, and since 85 percent of the population earns their income from agriculture, any drought has a detrimental impact on Ethiopians. As an island off the coast of Africa, Madagascar is especially prone to natural disasters like cyclones and flooding, and experienced its worst locust plague yet in 2013. Climate change is also viewed as a current and future cause of world hunger. Changing climatic patterns across the globe require changes in crops and farming practices that will not be easy to adjust to.
5. Increasing refugee populations
Finally, the presence of refugees in a country adds to the growing pressure on already limited resources. This is the case in Chad, which has over 400,000 refugees from Sudan and the Central African Republic due to political instability and ethnic violence in those countries. Ethiopia is also home to refugees, but because of a different reason – the country continues to welcome refugees from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia after the Horn of Africa drought.
Conflicts over oil in Sudan, North Africa’s largest country, caused a series of price inflations that have greatly affected the population. As Sudan’s largest natural resource is oil, the country experienced years of turmoil and conflict with bordering countries over the rights to oil fields. The increase in the price of oil is further reflected in transportation, and the isolation gap between urban and more rural areas has grown. As a result of this isolation, rural areas are unable to access necessary resources and economic growth. These areas have experienced low human development and according to the World Bank Sudan ranks 171 out of 187 countries on the human development indicator. In order to better human development the country must focus more on social and economic factors, especially in these rural communities.
Sudan is mostly made up of rural areas, which are drastically affected by drought, famine and conflict. In particular, the region of Darfur has suffered considerably and is currently the poorest area of the country. In fact, the land in Sudan is unfit to farm because of unreliable rainfall and the area faces major drought. Due to these circumstances, more than half of the population of Sudan lives in poverty and isolation.
Sudan also faces inequality and underdevelopment for most people living in these areas. For instance, access to health services is scarce, leaving more than half of the population without access to health resources. Due to the lack of resources in the health sector the child mortality rate in Sudan is extremely high, with 111 child mortality deaths per 1,000 births. In addition to a high child mortality rate, more than half of the population does not have access to safe drinking water. Instead, these communities rely on rivers, wells, and lakes as their drinking source.
In addition to these factors, there is an extreme lack of education in Sudan, especially for young girls. Even if a young girl does have the option to attend school, she becomes at risk of rape and other forms of violence.
There is an obvious need for social and economic development in rural areas to increase Sudan’s overall human development. Children in rural communities must have equal opportunity for a safe education to improve these areas. Also, while there is a substantial focus on oil, the country should instead shift to agriculture so that proper farming practice can be promoted in rural communities. This would foster economic development and lessen the isolation gap that these rural areas currently face.
– Rachel Cannon
South Sudan urgently needs $230 million in international aid in less than 60 days, the United Nations Humanitarian Aid Coordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, forewarned. Without the international food aid, South Sudan may face a fate similar to Ethiopia’s famine in the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands died.
“We’re in a race against time,” said the U.N. coordinator Lanzer to journalists in Geneva. According to The New York Times, Lanzer had only one message to world leaders: “Invest now or pay later.”
With 3.7 million people on the brink of starvation in South Sudan, the U.N. now ranks its food crisis equivalent to Syria’s current predicament. Lanzer appealed for the most critical needs, such as food, water, seeds and farming tools, so that the South Sudanese will be able to plant the seeds before the start of the rainy season in late May.
“I am angry because we don’t have food to eat,” Nyadang told The New York Times. The mother of five does not object to the war itself, as her own brother was killed in Juba, capital of South Sudan, where government troops have been linked to civilian arrests and massacres.
Leaders of U.N. humanitarian aid agencies estimate that close to 255,000 South Sudanese have escaped to nearby countries, approximately 76,000 people sought refuge at U.N. bases across the nation and over 800,000 were driven away from their homes by the hostility that exploded in mid-December of 2013, when South Sudan President Salva Kiir claimed his former vice president, Riek Machar, attempted to overthrow the government.
“The (U.N) is seeking $1.27 billion for South Sudan for 2014, but received only $385 million in the first quarter of 2014, less even than in the equivalent period of 2013,” reported The New York Times.
“Already over one million people have been displaced and are in dire need of humanitarian assistance,” wrote David Crawford, Oxfam’s Acting Country Director for South Sudan, on the Oxfam website.
South Sudan is rich with oil, but also one of the world’s poorest nations. She became independent from Sudan in 2011. In spite of the peace deal after 20 years of civil war, the remaining grievances were not adequately dealt with. Abdul Mohammed, an African Union official told CS Monitor that the roots of conflict lay in South Sudan’s inability to unify the various ethnic groups in its nation building efforts.
In addition, those from the south have a deep-seated resentment over the lack of development in their poverty stricken region and blamed the northern Sudan government for taking their oil money.
While this is the first time South Sudan will face a major food crisis, Lanzer noted that the internal conflict has wreaked substantial harm on its already unstable and agriculture-based economy, drastically affected trade and slashed the production of oil down by 50 percent.
“The hostilities need to cease to give people the confidence to tend their land,” he added.
António Guterres, head of the U.N. refugee agency, visited west Ethiopia, where 90,000 South Sudanese fled to escape the violence. He told The New York Times, “The physical and psychological condition of these people is shocking. This is a tragedy I had hoped I would not see again.”
– Flora Khoo
Refugees are fleeing Sub-Saharan Africa’s poverty in search for job opportunities, political freedoms and basic human rights. The sad reality of this situation is many of these opportunities are few and far in-between, and their lives rarely improve above the dire situation they were leaving.
Eritrea is one of the nations many have been fleeing from. Isayais Aferwerki, the despotic dictator who’s ruled Eritrea since its 1994 independence from Ethiopia, is a main reason. The nation is home to rampant poverty, media repression and political oppression. Adult-aged males are regularly conscripted into military service with no definite end-date, and the President was quoted as saying the nation was not ready for free elections for at least another 20-30 years. The constitution has been suspended and Eritrea remains single-party state, with opposition political groups regularly rounded up and jailed.
Around 200,000 Eritreans have left the nation in search of freedom, but it has resulted in a human rights crisis. Eritreans regularly flee to Sudan, Egypt and Israel only to be subjected to discrimination, and in some cases, have fallen into human trafficking. Israel has prevented refugees from entering by building a fence, which has resulted in asylum seekers slowing “to a trickle” of their original amount.
Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the crisis in early February stating that “refugees are commonly kidnapped, and their families extorted to pay for their release.” Those who manage to avoid kidnapping are usually deported back. HRW has focused on the culpability of Egyptian and Sudanese officials in the kidnapping crisis. The allegation has been made that corrupt officials have been benefiting financially from the situation and are actively cooperating with kidnappers.
Physicians for Human Rights released a damning report on the conditions many Eritrean refugees face on the trek to asylum. The imprisonment rate of those interviewed was around 59%, while 52% claimed they were violently abused at some point on their way to the Sinai Peninsula. Slave camps are prevalent in Egypt. In El-Arish, there are camps reported throughout the area, populated with “slave traders” who “demand ransoms” for the release of African refugees.
The report detailed that many of these refugees were tricked through “promises of being led to Israel” but rather held against their will, while other’s detailed “severe abuse.” Twenty percent of those interviewed also described witnessing murders. Israel can be considered culpable in this situation. With the building of the fence, the average of 1,500 refugees gaining asylum each month decreased to only 25 entering “between January and April 2013.”
Israel has also mounted a political campaign to defend their actions, decrying the Eritrean refugees as a “threat to Israeli society.” The public response to these accusations helped allow the government to enact stricter immigration legislation, allowing for slave traders to flourish in the wake.
The Anti-Infiltration Law was passed in January of 2012 by the Israeli Legislature of Knesset, and allowed the Israeli Government to detain any people found crossing the border. The law even prevents many of these refugees from receiving a speedy trail, allowing the Israeli state to detain undocumented immigrants for “minimum of three years.” If a undocumented immigrant is from a state considered belligerent to Israel, such as Sudan, they can be “detained indefinitely.”
It was a crushing defeat for many Africans in search of a new life free of oppression. With no options, many still flee, but they may not find the salvation they are in search of.
– Joseph Abay
In Sudan, many parents are finding incentive to send their children to school because of the meals that the children will receive during the day. School related fees such as uniforms, books and writing utensils can be expensive for Sudanese parents; education often takes a backseat when money is tight.
World Vision’s Otash Girls and Boys Schools have helped children stay in school, eat at least one meal per day and have even raised the number of enrolled children .
The United States cost equivalent of feeding a child during the school year is a mere $34. That amount is incredibly small when you take a look at the big picture. Extreme hunger in Sudan can cause severe damage to a young child’s ability to properly think and remain physically healthy during future years. Poor nutrition will leave a child stunted because of the lack of necessary nutrients needed in order to function and develop.
Dr. Joseph Cahalan stated, “…a stunted child can lose as much as 10% of her lifetime earnings as an adult. Countries with high levels of malnutrition can lose as much as 8% of their gross domestic product because of stunting.”
The physical limitations of children due to severe hunger in Sudan not only affect them personally, but can also impact the country as a whole. Sudan is already struggling financially because of wars and displacement; now those wars have placed 3.7 million adults and children in a state of emergency food insecurity.
Without a basic education, the fear is that children and future generations will be caught in a cyclical lifestyle of severe hunger in Sudan. Now that dry ration food is served during the day at Otash schools, children are able to stay concentrated during the day. So far, 32,798 students located throughout Sudan are able to benefit from World Vision.
– Rebecca Felcon
“The Borgen Project is an incredible nonprofit organization that is addressing poverty and hunger and working towards ending them.”
– The Huffington Post