As South Sudan Faces Humanitarian Crisis, Action Against Hunger Responds Assertively
Just three short years ago on July 9th, euphoria was felt nationwide as South Sudan declared its independence. This Independence Day stands in stark contrast, the harsh reality of conflict and suffering casting a shadow on the fragile nation since conflict erupted in December 2013.
In the past six months, 1.5 million South Sudanese have fled their homes in search of safety, nearly 400,000 of those fleeing as refugees to neighboring countries.
More than 7 million people in the country—more than two-thirds of the nation’s estimated 10 million citizens—are facing significant food insecurity; over half of this group, some 3.9 million, are expected to face dire food insecurity by the end of the year.
If humanitarian response is not scaled up significantly, 50,000 children could die from malnutrition and tens of thousands could die from cholera, measles, pneumonia and other diseases according to the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Looking at the Crisis in One Location: Bentiu, Unity State
Hopes have dimmed that the first wave of violence that started this past December would quickly be resolved when fighting began to take an increasingly ethnic dimension. The people of Bentiu, in the country’s Unity State, have been subjected to increased amounts of targeted ethnic killing and Bentiu has become a major landing place for those displaced by the conflict.
“We couldn’t trust anybody when the army and rebels started to fight to control our town. My husband stayed behind and I came here with my five children, looking for security. Communications are bad, and now I can’t find my husband. I don’t even know if he’s alive.” —Angelina, South Sudanese IDP staying in Bentiu
An estimated 46,000 South Sudanese who had to flee their homes are now living in the United Nations camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Bentiu, a number that could easily rise to 60,000 in a short period of time. Families are traveling extended distances for days without access to food or water in order to reach the Bentiu camp.
Three Children are Dying Every Day
UNICEF has reported that deaths among children age five and under have increased from 18 per week to 24 just this past week—three children are dying in the Bentiu camp every day. The UN reports that there is only one latrine for every 131 people in the camp, startlingly representing a significant improvement from the one latrine for every 241 people just short time ago.
Our Nutrition Emergency Team (NET) has been activated in Bentiu to help scale up the nutritional response in the camp. Utilizing our nutrition expertise and organizational resources, the NET team is now working to establish one Outpatient Therapeutic Program (OTP) in the camp, in collaboration with partner humanitarian organizations and thanks to the funding support of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).
Conditions are extremely challenging in Bentiu, and it is not logistically simple to move people and materials and full activation of the NET and its programming may take a couple of weeks, due to the extraordinarily complex context in which its members are working. We are awaiting the arrival of needed materials in Bentiu, working to make a parcel of land flat so we can work on it, building tents, and recruiting and training local staff during this critical scale-up period.
The outpatient program that is being set up right now will provide critical medical and nutritional services for malnourished children in the camp and ensure that children leave with medicine and Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) in weekly supplies. Typically a child needs between six and eight weeks of treatment to return to health.
Often parents and caretakers with sick children do not know that that their kids are suffering from acute malnutrition until it is too late. The NET team’s work is critical for enabling immediate outreach in Bentiu so that parents and other caretakers know that treatment for their children is available right at their doorsteps.
The World Cannot Forget the People of South Sudan
The crisis in South Sudan is in its early onset, and unfortunately will only continue to worsen. In a world weary from prolonged and deteriorating emergencies, conflicts, and human suffering, we cannot forget South Sudan.
Together the global community, individuals and governments alike, must deepen their support to aid the millions of South Sudanese whose lives are being irrevocably damaged by conflict, malnutrition, and disease.
All lead photos by Carla Fibla Garcia-Sala. Special thanks to our generous individual donors and institutional partners:
- The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO)
- The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)
- The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
- Common Humanitarian Funds (CHFs) managed by The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
- The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
- The Start Fund