They ate our food

The locust invasion in South Sudan has left families hungry

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
A woman cooking while holding her baby
15 January 2021

"It is cassava for lunch today, like every day. We don't have anything else," Mura Margaret (26) explains while stirring the cassava porridge.

The locust swarms can contain so many grasshoppers that they resemble fast-moving dark clouds, an ominous sign of the destruction to come. 

"When the dessert locust came, they were in  large numbers, so many that it could not be controlled. They ate all the crops, everything that was green was gone. There was nothing left on the farm," Margaret says looking at her youngest son Daniel (1.5). 

A woman carrying her child in front of destroyed crops

The large fields of Sorghum on her farm in Owiny-Ki-Bulwas supposed to keep the family full for the dry season which starts in November. But the locust didn't leave a single grain alone.

"We have no food in the house except some cassava which is keeping us alive. We eat it every day and I use it for brewing alcohol so I can make some money for us," Magaret says. 

A mother is preparing food with her child on the lap

Next door lives Teresa Nene (28) with her five children including Emmanuel (1.5).

"My farm was completely destroyed by the locust and it left us without food. Emmanuel's body didn't handle it very well and he got sick."

Teresa took her son to a UNICEF supported nutrition centre where it was established that he was suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

"He was very very sick and weak. I was praying to God for his survival. I thought he might not make it."

A boy looking at the camera

Emmanuel situation has already improved a bit. He has more energy and can play after he was enrolled in the UNICEF supported nutrition programme where he is provided with ready-to-use therapeutic food. If there are no complications, a child suffering from severe acute malnutrition will bounce back to normal in six to eight weeks.

But Teresa has more mouths to feed and is worried about what will happen the next few months. 

“I’m alone with my five children as a single parent. That was hard enough, then the locust came and made it worse. We are living from hand to mouth already, and sometime no food at all," she says shaking her head.  

A woman standing with a child in her arms

The food situation in Magwi county as a whole is projected to be in 'crisis' phase in May 2021, meaning the situation is a 3/5 on the integrated food security phase classification (IPC) scale. 

According to the IPC, 'crisis' phase is described as follows: "Even with any humanitarian assistance, at least one in five households in the area have the following or worse: Food consumption gaps with high or above usual acute malnutrition; OR are marginally able to meet minimum food needs only with accelerated depletion of livelihood assets that will lead to food consumption gaps."

A woman holding a baby who is laughing and looking at her

Margret is also worried about what will come.

"Daniel keeps getting sick as the food situation makes him weak and susceptible to infections and diseases."

Not only in Magwi is the situation dire. It is estimated that 7.24 million people in South Sudan will faced severe acute food insecurity between April and July this year and will be in need of urgent assistance. Furthermore, a staggering 1.4 million children will suffer from acute malnutrition in South Sudan in 2021.



A woman holding her baby who is smiling

The UN is supporting the Government of South Sudan addressing the difficult food situation but rely heavily on early contributions from donors if help is to be given timely. UNICEF is scaling up its response to the increasing number of children with acute malnutrition across the country, with an immediate focus on the most affected areas.

UNICEF South Sudan is grateful for the generous contributions to its nutrition programme from ECHO, the EU, the Republic of China, UK Aid and USAID.