Lehigh Alum on the Front Lines of Famine in South Sudan

By Josh Finkelstein '17

Last week the dire situation in South Sudan caused United Nations officials to declare a famine in parts of the war-torn East-African country. Lehigh alumnus Tim Davis ’11 has been at the forefront of the efforts to stave off the potential mass starvation.

Davis, a Reporting Officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), recognizes the impending threat. "The word ‘famine’ is not used lightly, and it has a technical definition based on metrics of malnutrition and mortality to ensure it is a meaningful term,” he says. "Basically, a famine means we anticipate devastation, even if aid is supplied."

Tim Davis with colleagues in South SudanWhile at Lehigh, Davis earned BA degrees in International Relations and German, in served as a United Nations Youth Representative for the Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health and Welfare. He has been in South Sudan for over a year and agreed to check in with Lehigh to share his experiences working at the front lines of the humanitarian crisis.

"I am proud be part of the FAO team that has accomplished so much,” says Davis. “Unfortunately these accomplishments are overshadowed by a continued deterioration in food security in the country, which is driven largely by conflict and an economic crisis.”

Roughly 5.5 million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in South Sudan and the declaration of famine indicates that millions are expected to be at immediate risk of starvation.

"The time for corrective measures has passed and now we must focus on minimizing the devastation. For FAO, our response is to provide emergency support to affected communities,” Davis says. “While the World Food Programme is the agency that will supply foodstuffs, FAO can have an impact on nutrition immediately with the provision of fishing equipment and, in a period of a few weeks, with vegetable seeds and tools."

Beyond the challenges faced by FAO, security for aid workers has been a continual concern. South Sudan is considered by many to be one of the world’s most dangerous nations.

"Between work and an early curfew, I spend most of my time during the week either at the office or in the compound,” he said. “We go through security training and are kept up to date on the security situation. At the end of the day, it is up to everyone to determine for themselves what constitutes acceptable risk."

Davis will be leaving South Sudan in March, but the experience has given him direct insight into a situation in dire need of world’s attention.