Thirty five years ago today, the U.N. declared October 16 World Food Day to strengthen solidarity in the fight against hunger. In that spirit, we are highlighting the crisis in South Sudan, which the United Nations Security Council has declared the worst food crisis in the world.
Action Against Hunger has worked with vulnerable populations in what is now South Sudan for over twenty five years, responding to high malnutrition rates, a lack of clean water, and chronic food insecurity.
Our presence in South Sudan today is as vital as it has ever been. Globally, South Sudan has the highest proportion of its population affected by the ongoing crisis—66 percent. Conflict that erupted in December 2013 has forced 1.8 million people to flee their homes and has left 4 million people without enough to eat. The displaced are mainly women and children, who fled the conflict with few possessions and little to no money. They want to return home, but many areas of the country remain engulfed by violence or the imminent threat of it.
Nutrition and food security are urgent priorities. Conflict and floods due to the rainy season have disrupted markets, livelihoods, livestock, and crops. There are hardly any functioning roads in South Sudan during the rainy season, so our logistics team must use helicopters to transport our staff and supplies in order to help. These logistical constraints make South Sudan one of the most expensive places to provide assistance.
Despite the challenges, Action Against Hunger has responded in the five most vulnerable states of South Sudan— Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile, Warrap and Northern Bahr El Ghazal. We are working in both conflict states as well as chronic emergency states to address the increasing needs of the people of South Sudan.
Chronic Emergency Programs in Warrap and Northern Bahr El Ghazal
Even before the conflict, children in Warrap and Northern Bahr El Ghazal states were suffering from chronic malnutrition. Our stabilization centers, which treat severely malnourished children, have already treated eight times as many children this year as in 2013. Admissions to our therapeutic feeding program have increased more than 50 percent in the past year.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so we take a holistic approach—tackling both immediate threats and the root causes of hunger.
We fight waterborne illnesses that contribute to malnutrition. Our water, sanitation, and hygiene teams construct wells so communities have access to clean water, build latrines for displaced families to help promote safe sanitation practices, and train people on the importance of daily hygiene to prevent sickness.
Our food security and livelihood teams prevent hunger in the short-term with food and cash transfers, and ensure that crops can be replanted and livestock restocked in the future. We work to improve dietary diversity, staving off malnutrition with a richer, more diverse diet.
Emergency programs in Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity
As mentioned before, our presence in South Sudan is vital, and our emergency programs highlight this need. Five months ago, we responded to a cholera outbreak in the capital city of Juba. At its peak, there were more than 100 new cases per week. Our cholera response team immediately began disinfecting households affected by cholera, rehabilitating water infrastructure in cholera affected areas, holding mass cholera awareness sessions, and building the capacity of local authorities and community-based organizations to respond to the outbreak. Now that the outbreak has subsided, our cholera team is focused on prevention, and is prepared to work anywhere in South Sudan if cases of cholera are confirmed.
Along with our cholera response programs, our nutrition programs are at the forefront of the response to this crisis. Our surveillance emergency team travels to some of the most remote areas of South Sudan collecting nutrition data to determine where children have the highest rates of malnutrition and what needs to be done to help. Our data collection is vital to the international community’s response to the food crisis in South Sudan and with UNICEF’s continued partnership, we will continue to assess the nutrition situation in South Sudan and provide the information necessary to save lives.
In close collaboration with our surveillance team, our nutrition emergency team works to save the lives of severely malnourished children and to build the capacity of local partners to respond. The team sets up outpatient therapeutic programs in the most critical areas, where they diagnose, treat, and prevent malnutrition in young children. Next, we then train local partner organizations with the goal of transferring the therapeutic program to them. This practice allows our team to move on to other areas of high need while building local capacity.
In the first two months of operation in Bentiu, we admitted close to 350 malnourished children, trained over 20 local volunteers and staff, and counseled over 1,400 people on health and nutrition. After the outpatient therapeutic program was fully established, we transferred it to a partner organization. The nutrition team will soon set up new operations in Ayod County and Twic East, where people are living day to day under the threat of violence, with limited access to food, water, and livelihoods.
On World Food Day, help us fight the worst food crisis in the world.
Help our nutrition, food security, and water and sanitation experts as they work with the people of South Sudan. Our expertise is what makes us one of the most effective humanitarian organizations in the world, and we are dedicated to helping the people of South Sudan now and moving forward.