DUBUQUE — Recent conflict in South Sudan has caused a dramatic increase in children that are in risk of starvation. Currently six million people are in need of some kind of humanitarian help, and half of these are children. The fighting that is taking place has forced over a million people out of their homes, and out in the open. They are suffering from severe heat and rains, in addition to a lack of food and clean water. Over half a million kids make up this number as well. Outbreaks of diseases such as cholera have appeared, and spread quickly in cramped conditions.
Starvation has become such an issue because South Sudan has an economy based on agriculture. Because of the fighting and violence within the country, the South Sudanese have not been able to grow their crops, and as a result have no source of food. The U.N. warns that this situation is worse than any since the 1980s, and that by the end of 2014 more than four million people may be suffering from starvation, and 50,000 children would be at risk for dying from lack of nutrition.
The U.N. and UNICEF have been doing all that they can to assist these people. Along with other humanitarian group partners, they have vaccinated more than 260,000 kids to protect against measles, and in addition have screened upwards of 60,000 children against malnutrition. UNICEF also has a goal of providing close to half a million South Sudanese with clean water and hygiene kits.
“UNICEF is reaching children with micronutrients and ready-to-use therapeutic food. We’re supplying the measuring tapes used to screen children for malnutrition, the long measuring boards to get the height of children, the scales that weigh the children to find out their nutritional status and their state of health,” commented Kent Page, UNICEF’s senior communications advisor for emergencies who was recently assigned to South Sudan. “We also provide a lot of tents, very important at sites for displaced people. During the time I was there the weather was, on a daily basis, about 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). These sites have virtually no trees, no shelter from the sun. We provide tents to our partners to use as nutritional treatment centers. It’s clean. Desks can be set up. Medicine can be stored. Doctors and nurses can treat children. Children are on beds, on mats on the floor, out of the sun.”
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake recently traveled to South Sudan as well, along with the World Food Program’s executive director, Ertharin Cousin.
“I talked to two doctors in the camp’s clinic, and they said they were making a terrible calculation. They can start to cut back now on the medicine they are giving to their patients because they don’t know whether they will have supplies in a month or two; or they can give the patients everything they need now and pray that they get more supplies,” Lake said. “As I looked around the tent and looked at the patients, I realized they only have one choice—the one that they are making—which is to continue to do everything they can now and just hope for the best.”
UNICEF is calling for a worldwide response to this crisis. Their emergency budget is currently 77% underfunded, and they rely on donations to help provide these vital services to the South Sudanese. Even a relatively small amount of funds, $67, can provide ten malnourished children with lifesaving therapeutic food for five days. No matter how much one has to give, any bit can make a difference and help ease the suffering in South Sudan.