Price hikes, drought and a threat of famine - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
Home » South Sudan » Price hikes, drought and a threat of famine

At Kuron Peace Village’s Primary School graduation

People in our community were very disappointed to hear of the postponement of Pope Francis’ visit to South Sudan, which was supposed to take place this week. We were hoping for an infusion of energy toward the peace process. Now it will have to wait until his knee is better.

This coming Saturday, July 9, 2022, will be the 11th anniversary of independence for this newest country in the world. There is not much to celebrate in this poor country, but one finds deep faith that God will protect His own. The government has already announced that there will be no independence celebrations this year, as they are broke! All of the government leaders, however, have fine houses in Kenya, Uganda and around the world!

News media are reporting sharp price increases for basic commodities and, in fact, all consumer goods. They are blaming the government, but in fact there are worldwide pressures. Most people don’t understand the international repercussions of the Ukraine war, COVID 19 and other world events. All they know is that they can no longer afford food.

According to a recent Associated Press report, Africans are now paying 45% more for wheat flour and related food products. Fuel is sold at a record high price of more than U.S. $6 per gallon (Radio Tamazuj). For people who have been living in or near severe poverty, this hurts very much. I have assisted some of our lower-paid staff (cleaners, cooks and watchmen) with the purchase of some food items as their salaries are less than U.S. $150 per month. But even I have felt the pinch as these prices have continued to rise.

Two weeks ago, the World Food Programme (WFP) informed the Peace Village primary school’s head teacher that the school children feeding programs will be reduced because food is simply not available. Meanwhile, the school has seen a 40% increase in student attendance this year. So more mouths to feed with less food!

As it suspended its assistance, WFP said that “up to 1.7 million people are at risk of starvation in South Sudan as funding shortages mean the [organization] can reach just over two thirds of the people it has targeted for humanitarian assistance this year.”

The suspension of aid comes at the worst possible time for the people of South Sudan as the country faces a year of unprecedented hunger. Over 60 percent of the population are grappling with severe food insecurity during the lean season, fueled by continuing conflict, severe flooding, localized drought,

Student transport, on a truck, from Kuron to Kapoeta

Last month, a South Sudanese radio station reported that Uganda has closed a major food export market to South Sudan in order to address its own food deficiencies. I have read that India is doing something similar to protect its own population from high food prices.

On top of all that, the rains in our state of Eastern Equatoria are simply not arriving on time. We had rain in April for two days, then it stopped. We had rain in May for three days, and then it stopped. In June we had no rain. Crops are wilting in the fields. The crop of sorghum had been looking very good until the wilting started. The irony is that two years ago this area had torrential rains leading to 100-year floods. Now it has swung the other way—too little rainfall.

During the first week of June we had an official announcement that parts of South Sudan are in a state of drought and that famine is imminent. This recent CBS report talks of drought in Kapoeta, which is the closest town to Kuron Peace Village and about 160 miles away. In the past I’ve gone to Kapoeta for R&R or to buy food. I would not find much food there nowadays.

Just out of curiosity, I looked at a comparison of temperatures in Eastern Equatoria this year, 2022, and last year, 2021. For the past two months, it has been hotter on every single day this year. I find that shocking. We feel that heat too.

Tough times, they are a-coming. We pray to our almighty and merciful God for all peoples of the world to be able to feed their children and live healthy and peaceful lives.

Gabe Hurrish
Gabe Hurrish works in parish ministry at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Riwoto in the South Sudanese state of Eastern Equatoria. He has served as a Maryknoll lay missioner in South Sudan since 2018.