Save the Children staff knew something was wrong. It was last November in Eastern Equatoria of South Sudan, just after the harvest, when it was less likely for families to need food assistance. Malnourished children were still being brought to Save the Children nutrition centers at an alarming rate, though.
Crops had failed because of “low and erractic rainfall” according to the United Nations. Families were running out of their usual food supply and were starting to resort to using wild fruits to survive.
Fact-finding missions sent by the UN into parts of Eastern Equatoria confirmed the increasing levels of hunger. It could get much worse too. The upcoming “lean season” between harvests is generally when food supply is at its lowest.
At its Kapoeta nutrition center during January, Save the Children saw 114 infants with severe malnutrition and another 210 children with more moderate malnutrition. Severely malnourished children are given a nutritious peanut paste called Plumpy’nut.
Without the right nutrition infants can suffer lasting physical and mental damage or death. Having enough stock of a food like Plumpy’Nut is essential to humanitarian aid operations. For no long-term solution to ending hunger or building peace can be found with malnourished and stunted children.
Save the Children is also responding to another hunger emergency in South Sudan. Cattle raids in Jonglei, the largest state in South Sudan, have killed or displaced thousands of people who are in need of aid.
These cattle raids in Jonglei took place in Akobo County and are the latest in a series of internal conflicts within the state.
Save the Children is providing aid in Akobo East. This is an area that struggles with food security. Helen Mould of Save the Children points out that the internal conflict has escalated deadly malnutrition in this area. People fleeing violence in Akobo West head toward the east. Mould says, “Host communities are sharing food stocks, but this is adding pressure on an already stressed situation. As a coping mechanism it appears many children are eating just one meal a day and families are relying on wild fruits for their food.”
The effect of this violence drives communities deeper into hunger. Displaced farmers, for instance, will not be able to plant crops in 2013.
The humanitarian tragedy continues. There is such poverty in South Sudan so there is little resistance to shocks such as drought or even flooding. When you add the conflict, often over scarce resources, you add another dimension driving the hunger crisis. South Sudan desperately needs food and peace.
Save the Children has a crisis fund set up to save lives in South Sudan.
Article first published as Saving the Children in South Sudan on Blogcritics.