South Sudan has seen the most frequent reporting of localised famine conditions globally between 2013-2020, on average at least one pocket of famine conditions every two months. Focusing on identified famines, however, masks a broader and even more frequent issue of extreme food insecurity at or near the severity of famine during the same period. As pockets of famine conditions are rarely predicted by humanitarian early warning systems, this report examined how chiefs’ courts in South Sudan recognised and managed hunger.

Drawing on household survey data and court observations in Warrap state in 2018, the authors demonstrate how courts redistribute food during periods of scarcity. They use an especially fine-grained and sensitive form of targeting for food assistance. Humanitarian engagement with chief’s courts is encouraged – as long as it is contextually informed and locally nuanced.