Increasing hunger could fuel conflict in south

An increasing number of people in Southern Sudan cannot find enough to eat or adequate pasture and water for their livestock, raising fears of conflict between communities over grazing lands, local leaders warned.

"Where there was peace, there was no rain and then where there were good rains, there was insecurity," Kuol Manyang, governor of Jonglei State, said.

His counterpart from Upper Nile State, Gutlauk Deng Garang, warned that hunger would force pastoralist cattle herders to move their animals, sharply increasing the likelihood of clashes with rival ethnic groups.

"We expect the cattle herders to start moving soon, and then it is expected [that there will] be conflict between the Lou and the Jikany Nuer," Garang told IRIN recently. Conflict between the Shilluk and Dinka communities had added to food insecurity, he said.

More than 2,000 people have died and about 350,000 have been displaced by violence across Southern Sudan since January, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The World Food Programme (WFP), which began airdropping food in the area on 4 November, estimates that 1.2 million people are already facing serious food insecurity in Southern Sudan.

"Air drops are a last resort to get food into these inaccessible places during this time of hunger," Michelle Iseminger, head of WFP in Southern Sudan, told reporters at Pochalla, a remote settlement on Sudan’s border with Ethiopia.

Wider problem

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the food insecurity in the region is part of the wider threat facing eastern Africa and the Horn, where prolonged drought and mounting conflict have left an estimated 20 million people needing food aid.

The warning came at a tense time for Southern Sudan, which is struggling to recover from a 22-year civil war that ended less than five years ago. Elections are due in April, followed by a referendum on the south's potential full independence in 2011.

"If we are not able to handle the situation well... repairing adequate supplies... we can expect very, very significant levels [of hunger] which can border on the red flag emergency, which becomes a famine," Hilde Johnson, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) deputy executive director, said during an 8 November visit to Jonglei's capital, Bor.

"When natural resources are being diminished on a daily basis, you will see hard pressure coming in on already meagre resources," Johnson added. "This will exacerbate conflict, there is absolutely no doubt."