Resilience in the face of famine - South Sudan

In February 2017, famine was formally declared in parts of South Sudan. One million people were on the brink of famine, while 100,000 were already facing starvation, due to conflict and a collapsing economy.

Above: Wathok community members and the produce grown as a result of World Vision’s support. Photo credit: World Vision/

Above: Wathok community members and the produce grown as a result of World Vision’s support. Photo credit: World Vision/

World Vision Australia responded across six counties in Unity and Lol (formerly Northern Bahr el Ghazal, or NBEG) states, providing life-saving assistance to conflict-affect communities who were also facing a lack of food. A second tranche of funding through the AHP meant a further 190,000 people in Aweil North County, Lol State, were also reached through emergency food security, livelihoods, nutrition, WASH, and protection programs.

Wathok is one of the Bomas (area divisions) in Aweil North County and one of five locations in Aweil North supported through the AHP response.  A rural community that survives on agricultural farming and livestock herding, Wathok also had a stable security situation which allowed for the free movement of goods and people.

However, as is the case with many places in South Sudan, this community endured a long period of civil war, which resulted in massive displacement. The country was facing a dire food security situation which was nearing emergency level. Famine was declared in Unity State, while malnutrition was rising in Aweil.

This vulnerable community wanted to become self-sufficient and people were looking to gain the skills and knowledge to make that possible. To support the community, World focused on improving agricultural practices - a key source of food for household consumption and income generating opportunities in the community.  

As a result, in Wathok alone, 406 people (178 male and 228 female) benefited from agriculture and livelihoods support. They received kits that included fishing gear, working tools and new crop varieties (including tomatoes, sukuma and eggplants) which had never been planted in their location before. Lead farmers and extension workers were trained, enabling them to grow a variety of crops to feed their families and sell on the market.

Community member, Mary Abuk Kuol, shared her experience of the new crops.

“We have only known Guom Tiop (fresh okra) in our community but we want to thank this assistance as we are now able to grow other crops which are new to us. We are now earning cash from the sales of these crops to meet some of our household needs,” Mary said.

“This has also improved nutrition of children especially for the young ones. As for me, I have managed to raise about SSP 19,600 (AUD 190) and I have used that money to buy three chickens and also to pay school fees for my two children,” she added.

Mary says many women in the community are reporting positive flow-on effects.

“Husbands would run away from their wives and families to Northern Sudan due to poverty and insecurity and some of them have not even come back, leaving the wives to fend for their families. But because of this project, we think that will not happen again,” she said.

Pests and diseases were also a major problem for the community. Expensive chemical pesticides are beyond their reach, but they were instead taught Integrated Pest Management approaches. This involved using locally made and tested remedies, such as mixing cow urine with neem leaves, ashes and mahogany bark, to kill the pests and diseases.

Above: A demonstration plot in Wathok. Photo credit: World Vision.

Above: A demonstration plot in Wathok. Photo credit: World Vision.

To build local capacity to boost agricultural production, World Vision identified and trained 17 women and 13 male Lead Farmers and Extension Workers/Facilitators in Wathok and the surrounding area. These leaders then passed on the training to other farmers who used the knowledge to improve vegetable production in their own gardens.

“In the past we used to produce vegetables only once during the rainy season due to lack of knowledge about the best practices of vegetable production and also the challenge of pests and diseases. But now we were able to produce twice a year following the training that we got through this project,” one of the lead farmers said.

One fisherman also said his fish harvest catch has soared from 5kg per catch to about 15 to 20 kg per catch.

World Vision also integrated Gender Based Violence awareness into its programming in Aweil. Shifts in attitudes regarding the role and rights of girls and women were evident.

“Another important aspect that we have appreciated so much from World Vision through this project is the dialogue platforms created through open discussions about gender-based violence. It was taboo in some areas for people to discuss issues of abuse and sexuality in the community, let alone at household level,” a community member said.

The awareness raising sessions changed perceptions among male community leaders.

“We now appreciate our women’s roles in community development and food security as they have a great role to play,” said a male beneficiary, Mr Anei Anei Yor.

The communities vowed to continue working and producing crops on their own, while also passing the knowledge they gained from the World Vision training to their neighbours. This positive approach, combined with skills development, is reducing donor dependency and increasing self-reliance.

The work in Wathok is part of a bigger humanitarian response to meet the immediate needs of 400,000 people in Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) levels four and five in Unity and NBEG States. World Vision is among the many partner organisations, including Oxfam, UNIDO, and World Relief, that are responding.