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JUBA – UNICEF and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are stepping up joint missions to reach desperate people in remote areas of South Sudan where the number of children at risk of death from malnutrition-related causes has increased dramatically and a hunger catastrophe is looming.
Across the country, an integrated Rapid Response Mechanism is in place so that teams of emergency workers and supplies can fly into remote areas to provide urgent humanitarian aid to people who have had little or no access to humanitarian assistance. The situation is most dire in the three conflict-affected states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile where data indicates as much as 60 to 75 percent of the population is severely food-insecure.
An estimated 235,000 children under the age of 5 will require treatment for severe acute malnutrition this year; twice as many as last year. Furthermore, some 675,000 children will require treatment for moderate severe acute malnutrition. So far, due to the challenging conditions, the humanitarian community has only been able to reach about 10 per cent of these children with the required treatment.
"Many people driven from their homes have to walk for days with nothing to eat before they reach towns like the state capital of Bentiu in the hope of finding assistance. Some of them, particularly children, arrive so badly malnourished there is nothing that can be done to save them," said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. "We must reach the remote populations with essential supplies and services to spare them that perilous journey. The Rapid Response Mechanism gives us the flexibility to focus on the people, especially the children, who need our assistance most."
Teams deployed to remote locations register people and supply life-saving food assistance, usually via air-drops and airlifts. The teams treat children suffering from malnutrition, provide water, sanitation and hygiene supplies and services, identify children who have become separated from their families and provide basic education services where possible. Furthermore, specialty nutrition supplements are provided to children under 5 who are not yet malnourished, in order to prevent them from becoming so. To date, there have been joint missions to 15 locations, reaching more than 200,000 people, including 70,000 children under 5. In addition WFP teams have reached a further 14 locations, helping approximately 350,000 more people. Once access to these locations is open, partners are often able to provide ongoing assistance.
"Experienced humanitarian staff returning from deep field locations report conditions worse than they have ever seen," said Joyce Luma, WFP Country Director in South Sudan. "The work of these teams is critical if we are to avert a hunger catastrophe. We urgently need funds and partners to be able to expand coverage and establish a fixed presence in remote areas to support food and nutrition activities if we are to have any chance of avoiding an impending disaster."
WFP initiated the innovative Rapid Response Mechanism missions in January, with UNICEF and other agencies joining in March to help increase capacity and provide a more complete package of assistance. Teams are currently operating around Koch and Nihaldu in Unity State reaching 58,700 people who have not previously had access to any form of assistance.
The appalling condition of people on arrival in Bentiu triggered joint assessment missions to find the areas from where they originated. Initial reports from the teams indicate extremely high levels of malnutrition among children under 5. Further immediate missions are planned for other targeted areas in Unity State. And then over the coming months UNICEF, WFP and partners will undertake additional missions to cover 30 hard-to-reach sites every month in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile.
The conflict in South Sudan has displaced some 1.5 million people from their homes. Over 1.1 million - more than half of them children - are living in makeshift shelters within South Sudan with limited or no access to humanitarian assistance. Four million people are facing emergency levels of food insecurity and UNICEF warns that 50,000 children under 5 are likely to die this year unless they can be reached with treatment for severe acute malnutrition. This crisis has also severely impacted humanitarian access as well as health and water and sanitation services.
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For additional information, please contact:
Mercy Kolok, Communications Officer, UNICEF South Sudan, Tel: +211 (0)955 639 658 Email: email@example.com
James Elder, UNICEF Regional Chief of Communication, Eastern & Southern Africa; Mobile: +254 71558 1222; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org twitter @1james_elder
Challiss McDonough, Senior Regional Spokeswoman, World Food Programme (WFP), Nairobi Tel: +254-707-722-104, Email: email@example.com
Jackie Dent, Public Information Officer, WFP South Sudan Tel: + 211 (0) 922465247 Email: Jacqueline.firstname.lastname@example.org