Weekly Columns

Hunger emergencies are on the rise across Africa. The situation in one country is so grim that it has led the United Nations (UN) to use the word famine for the first time since 2011. 

Famine is not a word that the UN or the international aid community throws around lightly. In order for the UN to officially declare a “famine,” a population must reach certain death rate, malnutrition and food shortage thresholds. In blunt terms, a formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger. That is what is happening in the world’s youngest country, South Sudan, right now. 

The famine in South Sudan is almost entirely man-made. Fighting between rival factions has left an estimated 4.9 million people in urgent need of food. That total is expected to rise to over 5.5 million people by summer if the international community doesn’t act quickly.

These innocent civilians are victims of competing groups who use hunger as a weapon of war while accumulating wealth by exploiting South Sudan’s oil, gold and livestock.

There is plenty of evidence to show that when people don’t have enough to eat, they get desperate. Desperation fuels conflict. Conflict in a young country in an unstable region poses the risk of spillover into neighboring countries—further exacerbating human suffering.

This is why U.S. leadership is needed. By that, I don’t mean throwing money or military personnel into a conflict zone. In fact, that would likely exasperate the situation as the structural causes will remain once the money dries up and the troops head home.

However, there absolutely is a need for the U.S. to take a lead in coordinating relief with non-governmental organizations and our international partners like the World Food Program. Aid that has proven effective channels the dedication and compassion of doers, not takers.

Along with helping those who desperately need humanitarian aid, the U.S. should push the international community to take action to end the unchecked corruption that fuels the conflict in South Sudan. This is the structural cause of the crisis. We have to address this problem at its root.

If we want to have any chance at long-term stability in South Sudan, we must seriously consider options that would end the corruption that enriches those in power at the expense of the citizens.

The Trump administration is taking the right steps. The president recently announced the continuation of the national emergency declaration for South Sudan that was set to expire and our Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, rightfully called out the warring parties and urged the UN Security Council to move forward with further sanctions and an arms embargo against them.

The Ambassador’s words urging the council to take action to break the cycle of violence in South Sudan are extremely encouraging. They show that the administration understands that the U.S. must remain engaged in corners of the world that need our leadership.

It is my hope that Congress and the president can work together to exert that leadership and put an end to the corruption that is causing so much suffering in the country.   

Human suffering is never in our national interest, no matter where it is happening. U.S. leadership through diplomacy and smart foreign aid programs help prevent situations that lead to serious threats to our national security.