After six months of conflict, South Sudan faces a threat more dire than the violence itself

by Medair | Medair - Switzerland
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 09:48 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Fighting began in Juba on 15 December and there continues to be immense displacement. Armed militia have killed civilians, destroyed towns, and burned villages to the ground. An estimated 1.3 million people are displaced, fleeing with nothing, seeking refuge wherever they feel safe: UN bases, swamps, camps, schools, churches.

Those who are safe from the conflict face new problems. An outbreak of cholera is spreading in Juba. Seasonal rain and flooding are rendering entire regions inaccessible and endangering the health of families without shelter.

One of the greatest threats to life, however, is South Sudan’s severe food shortage. “Crops haven’t been planted or harvested. Markets have been destroyed, and food supply routes have been shut due to insecurity and muddy roads. Food was scarce even before the conflict started; now it is all but gone. We are seeing people climbing trees to pick leaves to eat and wading into murky swamps to consume water lilies,” said Wendy van Amerongen, Medair Communications Officer. “Rates of malnutrition are skyrocketing.”

Famine has become a real possibility. The UN warns that four million people will be on the brink of starvation by the end of 2014; 50,000 children are said to be at imminent risk of starvation. Toby Lanzer, the UN’s top official in South Sudan, believes the country could face the worst famine the world has seen since Ethiopia in the mid-1980s. “If the crisis reaches that level, the eyes of the world will be on South Sudan, and everyone will ask why we didn’t do more to stop it,” said Jim Ingram, Medair CEO. “This is our window of opportunity. We need the world to know this is happening and give them a chance to take a stand.”

Nutritious food supplements and related treatment are proven methods of restoring health and energy to malnourished children. “With South Sudan embroiled in another crisis, the international community may question if this country is really worth more investment,” said Mr. Ingram. “Here’s the bottom line: Our mission at Medair is clear—to relieve human suffering. Children will starve to death if we don’t act. They will recover if we do. What more do we need to know?”

 Here’s what Medair is seeing on the ground:

  • Malnutrition rates in a refugee camp of 40,000 in Maban County have almost tripled since February.
  • More than 30,000 have fled into the swamps in Panyijar County, doubling the population. They are barely surviving on water lilies and leaves. Medair’s nutrition team is seeing swift recoveries once children get food and treatment.
  • A cholera outbreak is escalating in the capital city of Juba. Medair provided cholera immunisations and is providing support to case management at the cholera treatment center emergency public health campaigns, and hand-washing stations in various parts of the city.
  • In Malakal, one of the most devastated cities, Medair helped treating the wounded and is providing safe drinking water sources and latrines to a population reeling from fierce fighting and widespread damage.
  • In Bentiu, Unity State, more than 20,000 people fled to a UN compound that is designed to accommodate only a small contingent of staff. With the unbearably crowded base desperately needing safe water and sanitation, Medair worked around the clock to meet the needs of the displaced.
  • Violence in Renk County forced Medair to evacuate for brief periods and return as soon as safely possible. An estimated 13,200 returnees are stranded north of Renk with minimal assistance. Medair is providing health, nutrition, safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Medair has been present in South Sudan since 1992, and since the conflict began in December has assisted thousands of affected people through nutrition, health, water and sanitation, and emergency shelter.

Medair’s relief workers have first-hand stories and photos from the crisis and they are available to speak with media to help raise awareness of this desperate situation. Recent photos of Medair’s work are available for use upon request.

For media, contact:

Timothy Chapuis, Communications Manager (English, French), +41 (0)21 694 35 49 or +41 (0)79 319 4299

For inquiries and interviews from South Sudan, please contact Wendy van Amerongen, Communications Officer (Dutch, English), +211 (0)927 475 150

Medair’s South Sudan programme is supported by the EC Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, the United States Agency for International Development, Common Humanitarian Fund, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and private donors.

For more information on Medair’s South Sudan programme, click here.  
Medair helps people who are suffering in remote and devastated communities around the world survive crises, recover with dignity, and develop skills to build a better future.