David Bold Dut has been queuing for two hours to buy a sack of maize. Customers in front of him are scrambling to get hold of the last basic products in a neighbourhood market in Juba. Mary Achol Deng is also waiting in line with her three children.
My children often sleep on an empty stomach or eat a single meal a day.
“In the market a 50kg sack of maize flour now costs 3,500 SSP after the week of fighting, which is equivalent to 500 US dollars at the black market exchange rate,” Achol, a civil servant at the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, says. “My children often sleep on an empty stomach or eat a single meal a day,” adds Achol, who says her government salary, 900 SSP per month, is not enough to feed her family.
Fatima Poni Augustine, another customer waiting in line, is hoping to get her hands on any basic food. “Sometimes my monthly salary can only buy a single item, like a sack of flour or tin of cooking oil,” Poni explains.
Since forces loyal to opposition-leader Riek Machar and forces loyal to President Kiir clashed again in Juba earlier this month, leaving hundreds dead, humanitarian organisations have been warning of catastrophic levels of food insecurity in South Sudan. United Nations agencies have stressed that more than a third of the population in South Sudan are in urgent need of food.
WFP warehouse looted
Joyce Luma, Country Director for the UN World Food Program (WFP), says her organisation’s main food warehouse in Juba was looted during the recent fighting. Large amounts of the 4,500 metric tonnes of emergency food supplies in the warehouse were stolen, according to Luma.
“We fear that the loss of these vital food supplies will severely hamper WFP’s ability to assist the tens of thousands of people who have fled their homes because of violence,” Luma told reporters.
Local grocery store owners say their businesses were also looted by soldiers during the confrontations. “I own a basic commodities store and everything I own was looted on the 10th of July during the military clashes,” says Ahmed Abdullah Tama, a Sudanese businessman in Juba. Tama is himself worried how he will eat in the coming days, let alone how he will replenish his store to meet demand.
We will import more food from neighbouring countries and sell it to traders at subsidised prices.
The government says it will import emergency supplies to replenish Juba’s markets. “The government of South Sudan will revise its previous system of importing food in the form of maize and wheat flour and sorghum to save the markets from running out of stocks. We will import more food from neighbouring countries and sell it to traders at subsidised prices,” Biel Jock, Undersecretary in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, told The Niles.
The private sector has also pledged its support to overcome the food security crisis. “We, the business community of South Sudan, are ready to help our people by selling them food commodities at cheap prices,” said Lado Luka, chairman of the South Sudanese business community in Juba. Luka however noted that the reduction in value of the South Sudanese pound vis-a-vis the US dollar means imports have become more expensive, making the challenge of keeping prices low harder.