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South Sudanese Children Starving While Aid Falling Short

WASHINGTON, Jul 15 2014 (IPS) - Even as aid workers are warning that children in South Sudan are falling victim to mass malnutrition, international agencies are said to be missing their fundraising goals to avert a looming famine in the country.

On Monday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the international medical relief organisation, reported that nearly three-quarters of the more than 18,000 patients admitted to the agency’s feeding programmes in South Sudan have been children. South Sudan has experienced mounting civil violence in recent months, which humanitarian groups warn has directly impacted farmers’ ability to plant and grow crops.

A child snacks in her family's new shelter, at Protection of Civilians (POC) camp III, near UN House, in Juba. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

A child snacks in her family’s new shelter, at Protection of Civilians (POC) camp III, near UN House, in Juba. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Yet even as South Sudan’s malnutrition epidemic intensifies, seven major international aid agencies, all of which prioritise food security in South Sudanese villages, may have to shut down their projects due to severe funding gaps.

Naming South Sudan to be “the most pressing humanitarian crisis in Africa,” CARE International, a U.S.-based relief agency, has stated that the United Nations’ most recent appeal for South Sudan is less than half funded.

The U.N. says some 1.8 billion dollars is urgently needed in the country, yet CARE says that seven implementing agencies are short by some 89 million dollars.

“We will be staring into the abyss and failing to avert a famine if funds do not start arriving soon,” Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, said in CARE’s report.

“This is a not a crisis caused by drought or flood. It is a political crisis turned violent. The people of South Sudan can only put their lives back together once the fighting ends. In the meantime… we are asking the public to help us with our urgent humanitarian work, but mainly we are calling on governments to fund the aid effort before it is too late.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of State announced it would provide another 22 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to facilitate “basic life support” in South Sudan. Yet the following day, three U.S. lawmakers wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, expressing “grave concern” over the growing conflict in South Sudan’s border region and urging “renewed diplomatic engagement” with the international community.

While solving the political problem at the root of South Sudan’s current violence is a significant priority, aid workers say the international community’s most dire concern should be for the nutritional needs of South Sudanese children.

“Many of these children have walked for days to receive medical care and food security, and these are only the ones we see,” Sandra Bulling, media coordinator for CARE International, told IPS from South Sudan. “We don’t even know about the ones hiding in the bush.”

Centrality of nutrition

The malnutrition crisis comes amidst tumultuous domestic politics in South Sudan, resulting in fighting that has raged since December. Some 1.5 million South Sudanese residents are now estimated to be displaced within the country, thereby decreasing their access to reliable food sources and requiring them to share already-limited supplies.

Dr. Jenny Bell, a medical worker and expert on South Sudan with the University of Calgary in Canada, acknowledges that “the nation’s health situation wasn’t brilliant before December,” but warns that the civil conflict has “compounded” the country’s medical issues.

South Sudan “already had the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and it had been estimated that one in five South Sudanese children die before they reach age five,” she told IPS.

“But even though there had barely been enough food before, now there really won’t be enough, as [internally displaced] farmers were unable to grow crops [due to the violence], and cannot do so now because South Sudan is well into [its] rainy season.”

Adequate nutrition needs to be South Sudan’s top priority, Bell emphasises. The three leading causes of death in the country – malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections – are much more likely for a person to contract when he or she is malnourished, she notes.

Yet she adds that despite the “amazing agricultural potential” of South Sudan, funding for this purpose has been weak.

“The United States’ monetary aid to the region is complicated because they don’t trust the South Sudanese government,” she says. “Because of this, they’ve shifted everything to humanitarian aid, and all the development efforts have been wiped out.”

In addition to monetary aid for agricultural development, Bell says health-care facilities urgently need both supplies and personnel.

CARE’s Bulling agrees that training medical personnel is of key importance in South Sudan, adding that her focus is to work with local staff but fly in as many experts as possible.

“But it is mainly money that we need, so we can procure medicines and all of the necessary nutritional requirements,” she says.

When asked what it would take for the international community to react to the need for more funding in South Sudan, Bulling cited a technique that she says has historically been effective.

“We need to have photos of children starving and dying before the world reacts to such a disaster,” she says.

“This is what has worked for Somalia … you need these pictures to talk. For South Sudan we do all these press releases and calls to action, but as long as there is no big report with photos to show how bad the situation is, there is no response.”

 
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  • gholchot

    South Sudanese appreciate the world had given them ever since and l think the world is getting tired of seeing South Sudanese bonny babies on their television screens all the times and l can’t blame the world, but our power greedy leaders.

    Since 1950th to 2005 our little bonny bodies have been shown the world and the world generously helped us, because they know what we were fighting for then; but now, what are we still fighting for again? Absolutely nothing!

    Our leaders have little tinge of shame. For how long will South Sudanese people be begging for food from others, when they have the best land that courageously fought for and that can even feed many other needy people if we just stop these senseless fightings and take our own right place in the world.

  • purley quirt

    The core of the problem that is deadening ” political will” ( inside AND outside of the country has three components:
    1 tribal warfare (public sector) .
    This dominates the leaders focus INSIDE the country ( and the internal warring results in decimating a population of people fighting over ancient boundaries of conflict).
    This is a bloodlust issue and not easily stopped.

    2. highway robbery (private sector)
    This dominates the “land grab” mentality for Sudan is all of Africa’s “breadbasket” ( as well as a “bio” fuel crop paradise) and the multibillions of dollars held by the private sector could easily align with government to fund ” PROGRAMS” that stabilize the population in terms of ” creating EARNING & LEARNING ” work opportunities in agriproduction AND permits Social Policy Trading for Business
    This i an economic reality for every country.
    .
    3. geographic destiny. (voluntary sectors)
    The mapped borders between countries and nations have been erased by economic necessity.. This opens the door for ” ordinary people” everywhere to seize the opportunity to:
    (a) for those who do NOT “care”…to keep fuelling the fires of tribal warfare and decimate the population ” to the point” where “outsiders” ( albeit posing as ” do gooders” )dominate the workforce reorganising the country..
    (b) for those who DO care ….. to ” micro”GIVE ..(1$ /day to every child “working in the village” to enable a single parent to start a small farm ( WORKPLACE LEARNING) .

    SUMMARY
    It will take the ” wealth &will” of the Diaspora AND the “genuine commitment” of local VILLAGE government (KEY)aligned with the new Federation Model of South Sudan government.to regain mastery over the challenges of running a new country.
    May God be with you. <3

  • purley quirt

    The core of the problem that is deadening ” political will” ( inside AND outside of the country has three components:
    1 tribal warfare (public sector) .

    This dominates the leaders focus INSIDE the country ( and the internal
    warring results in decimating a population of people fighting over
    ancient boundaries of conflict).
    This is a bloodlust issue and not easily stopped.

    2. highway robbery (private sector)
    This
    dominates the “land grab” mentality for Sudan is all of Africa’s
    “breadbasket” ( as well as a “bio” fuel crop paradise) and the
    multibillions of dollars held by the private sector could easily align
    with government to fund ” PROGRAMS” that stabilize the population in
    terms of ” creating EARNING & LEARNING ” work opportunities in
    agriproduction AND permits Social Policy Trading for Business
    This i an economic reality for every country.
    .
    3. geographic destiny. (voluntary sectors)
    The
    mapped borders between countries and nations have been erased by
    economic necessity.. This opens the door for ” ordinary people”
    everywhere to seize the opportunity to:
    (a) for those who do NOT
    “care”…to keep fuelling the fires of tribal warfare and decimate the
    population ” to the point” where “outsiders” ( albeit posing as ” do
    gooders” )dominate the workforce reorganizing the country..
    (b) for
    those who DO care ….. to ” micro”GIVE ..(1$ /day to every child
    “working in the village” to enable a single parent to start a small farm
    ( WORKPLACE LEARNING) .

    SUMMARY
    It will take the ” wealth
    &will” of the Diaspora AND the “genuine commitment” of local VILLAGE
    government (KEY)aligned with the new Federation Model of South Sudan government.to regain mastery over the challenges of running a new country.
    May God be with you. <3

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