Congress backs famine relief, calls for political pressure on South Sudan

Majok, who came from Nyal, is assisted by a member of Oxfam at a food distribution site in South Sudan. Photo by: Lauren Harnett / Oxfam / CC BY-NC-ND

On Tuesday night, the United States House of Representatives passed a near-unanimous resolution calling for continued U.S. engagement on the famine in South Sudan.

The motion backs the provision of critical food aid, and calls for the U.S. government to exert even greater political pressure on the South Sudanese government to peacefully resolve an ongoing conflict as well as to guarantee the protection of civilians and aid workers.  

While there is no funding attached to it, the resolution is a strong statement of Congressional support at a time when the administration has called for deep cuts to aid spending, including on famine. Only two of the 411 members of Congress who voted opposed the resolution: Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky and Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina.

The resolution outlined the challenge of combatting a “man-made” famine now affecting 100,000 people. A further 4.9 million people — more than 40 percent of the population — are in urgent need of food, agriculture and nutritional assistance, while more than 1 million children are suffering from malnutrition.

The resolution calls upon the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator to continue to “provide immediate and robust assistance to respond to the famine” including through the Food for Peace program and other emergency food security programs. USAID should work alongside international relief such as the World Food Programme, the resolution says.

The measure also urges the government of South Sudan to stop the ongoing violence, and allow food and supplies to reach civilians. Congress “condemns all threats and violence against civilian populations and aid workers,” the resolution reads.

It calls for “greater diplomatic pressure on the parties to return to the negotiation table to stop the violence.”

New funding to come?

Whether this Congressional support for South Sudan will translate into funding is unclear. President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing deep cuts to aid, including eliminating funding for the Famine Early Warning System network, as Devex reported.

Some members of Congress are pushing to to include $1 billion in funding for South Sudan famine relief in the Continuing Resolution now being hashed out to fund the U.S. government through the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat from California, who organized an event Wednesday morning about the famine in South Sudan as well as near-famine situations in Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen, said that the outlook for getting the funding “looks positive.”

Bass told Devex she didn’t believe Congress would consider the administration’s proposal to cut all funding to the Famine Early Warning System Network. “In the midst of the world's worst humanitarian crisis and 20 million people potentially on the brink of starvation I do not believe there is any way Democrats or Republicans would consider a cut like that,” she said.

Access and insecurity

Discussions at the event on Wednesday highlighted the need to push for political solutions to conflict, in addition to funding humanitarian action. In every critical situation aside from Somalia, where drought has exacerbated food insecurity, conflict and instability have been the primary drivers of famine.

Peace processes so far have imposed “no consequences for failure” on politicians, said John Ging, the director of the operational division at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Instead, the costs of ongoing conflict are borne by the civilian population. Several attempts at peace in South Sudan, for example, have yielded little progress.  

“Twenty million are in peril of famine, and if we don’t act they will suffer famine, and when that happens it will be too late,” he said. “Famines can be prevented but it requires action.”

On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador to the U.S., asked the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo and other sanctions on South Sudan, to try to help bring about an end to the conflict. Russia and China have indicated they are opposed to such a measure.

Stay tuned to Devex for more news and analysis of what the Trump administration means for global development. Read more coverage here and subscribe to The Development Newswire.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.