Mary is our Director of External Relations, leading Action Against Hunger's development and communications efforts.
World’s Youngest Nation Marks 3rd Anniversary Amid Mounting Crisis
NEW YORK—July 3, 2014—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 deep shadow on the fragile nation, which is now in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis of its nascent history. Since conflict erupted in December 2013, 1.5 million South Sudanese have fled their homes in search of safety, nearly 400,000 of those fleeing as refugees to neighboring Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.
South Sudan is facing a humanitarian crisis of breathtaking scale and scope. 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.
Adding to the crisis, a cholera outbreak erupted in Juba, the nation’s capital city, this past May. Nearly 2,200 cholera cases have been reported across the country, including 54 deaths since May. An Action Against Hunger Emergency Cholera Team from Spain was deployed to Juba immediately when the May outbreak occurred. Fortunately the outbreak has slowed in the capital and the Emergency Team has now begun transition planning to determine how the efforts can be incorporated into our ongoing operations in Juba.
Looking at the Crisis Through the Lens of 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.
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.
“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
This continuing influx of IDPs to Bentiu has deeply stretched the existing health services provided by humanitarian organizations. 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).
It is important to note that 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. Conditions are extremely challenging, and it is not logistically simple to move people and materials. 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.
Once operational, the OTP will boost the nutritional services provided to children suffering from acute malnutrition. Children coming to the OTP will receive Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTFs) and other systematic preventive measures and treatments for infections, illnesses, and micronutrient deficiencies (e.g. antibiotics, vitamin A, de-worming tablets).
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 RUTF in weekly supplies. Typically a child needs between six and eight weeks of treatment to return to health. Most critical for the NET team now is to help partners locate children suffering from acute malnutrition in the camp, identify any new cases as early as possible, and refer them to the treatment site.
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.
As referenced above our NET team is also working to recruit and train local staff, and coordinate with existing partners who could eventually manage the OTP in Bentiu, freeing up this critical emergency team to move to other areas of need in the country. Bentiu is just one critical location in this humanitarian crisis. Our significant partnership with UNICEF has enabled our Surveillance Emergency Team (SET) to travel the country to assess the nutritional needs of children.
Returning on July 2nd from Leer, another area in South Sudan’s Unity State, the surveillance results our SET found are breathtakingly difficult. The Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate, which reflects the nutrition status of a population per World Health Organization classification, is considered to be at emergency level when above 15%; our SET team’s initial results from Leer showed a 34% GAM rate, a clear indication of a devastating nutritional crisis there.
With UNICEF’s continued partnership, the SET team will continue to travel through South Sudan to assess other areas, helping to ensure that children suffering from malnutrition receive care.
A 20-Year History of Working in South Sudan
For more than twenty years, we have worked with vulnerable populations in what is now South Sudan, responding to high malnutrition rates, a lack of clean water, and chronic food insecurity. After claiming independence in 2011, the Republic of South Sudan faced both emergency situations and long-term development challenges. These problems continue today—nearly seven million people in South Sudan are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including food aid.
In 2013 alone, we treated some 27,000 severely malnourished children while helping another 45,000 people access lifesaving care, and provided more than 189,000 people with access to clean water and sanitation, and helped more than 80,000 people regain their self-sufficiency.
“Before the current crisis, we were mainly working in Warrap and Northern Bahr el Gazal states, both of which have high nutrition needs. We have three stabilization centers where we’re treating severely malnourished children, and we have 23 outpatient therapeutic centers (OTPs). Last year we reached 15,900 severely malnourished and around 12,000 moderately malnourished children through these programs. This year, we’ve already treated 9,000 children in these locations, and we deem it important to continue these current projects as the population moves and needs grow country-wide.”
—Aleksandra Todorovic, Action Against Hunger Country Director, South Sudan
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. 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 Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
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.
Download the statement: South Sudan 3rd Anniversary Statement