The international community was full of hope when South Sudan declared independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, but as it marks its fourth anniversary, the world’s youngest country faces severe challenges. Conflict that broke out in December of 2013 has yet to stop, forcing millions from their homes. The lean season started two months early this year, due to depleted food stocks, a spike in food prices, and the compounding effect of unending and escalating violence.
A staggering 40 per cent of the population–that’s 4.6 million people–are now at risk of severe food shortages, and one million people are living in a state of emergency one step below famine.
Action Against Hunger has worked in what is now South Sudan since 1985. We are the co-lead, with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health, of the nutrition cluster in South Sudan, and have a key role in training other organizations to build their capacity to treat children suffering from undernutrition. Our nutrition programs were at the forefront of the response to the food crisis.
In the past year, with funding from UNICEF and technical support from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we piloted a new way to gather crucial nutrition data during emergencies. Our surveillance emergency team travelled to some of the most remote areas of South Sudan to collect nutrition data, using this new method, Rapid SMART, to provide actionable information in one-third of the time. The data we collected informed the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis and allowed the humanitarian community to track the impact of their interventions. This information is key in determining where children had the highest rates of malnutrition, providing the information necessary to save lives.
In April, Action Against Hunger launched a multi-sector emergency operation in Old Fangak, Jonglei state, one of the states most impacted by the conflict. We are treating hundreds of children, many of whom fled fighting in Unity state, and are addressing the need for clean water and longer term food security.
Non-stop, long-term conflict has created chaos for the people of South Sudan. It has made the lean season dangerously leaner, and has made it much more difficult and expensive to help. We are planning for sustained operations in light of deteriorating conditions, but as we do, we must call for the protection of people in South Sudan and ensure that humanitarian workers are not prevented from reaching South Sudanese in need.
We can change things for the better. Just last year, donors and humanitarians were able to prevent famine. We are once again at a key moment where we can save lives and lessen suffering, so that next year, the people of South Sudan will have a very different story to tell about the future of their country.
A member of our team in South Sudan recently shared his hopes for his country, and also why he returned home to South Sudan after twenty years and joined us in our work, “I feel one day South Sudan will be like the rest of the world. I have to side with my country. I need to work positively to improve all things in all areas that I can. So I feel proud for my country and I love to work for my country.”
Together we can make a difference. Let’s continue to do all we can for and with the people of South Sudan.