Famine Is Over, But The Job Has Just Begun

An Ilyushin Il-76 flies over the village of Aburoc during a joint WFP-UNICEF food drop. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

The good news: the devastating food crisis in South Sudan has eased.

The bad news: it’s also just got worse.

This week came the announcement that there is no longer a famine in South Sudan. But the number of people struggling to find enough food each day has grown from less than five million in February, to more than six million.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people still face the prospect of starvation.

People queue for food distribution in the village of Aburoc. Nearby fighting has meant thousands of people have arrived in this village. Many live without shelter, gathering under trees, and sleeping in the open air. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

How? Well, it’s simple, and it’s complicated. Famine can only be declared when very specific conditions are met: at least 20 per cent of families facing extreme food shortages; acute malnutrition rates exceeding 30 per cent; and more than two adults out of every 10,000 dying every day.

That’s no longer the case in South Sudan.

Basically, we’ve stopped so many people dying, but the underlying issues are still there, and unless we continue to provide support, more people will die.

A dead cow in standing water after the rains, beside a well in Aburoc. The cow was removed the following day, but such sanitation issues have contributed to a cholera outbreak in the area. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

The situation is by no means over. Somalia and Yemen are still at extreme risk of slipping into famine. Millions of people — particularly children — throughout the Horn of Africa are still at risk.

But we’ll take the wins where we can. And make no mistake, this is a win, one that we couldn’t have done without you.

New Zealand has stepped up. Millions of dollars have been raised for humanitarian agencies to deliver life-saving work in South Sudan.

Mary Deya, 28, holds her four-month old daughter Idia Flore in Yei hospital. Idia was admitted to hospital with severe malnutrition and Mary was not producing milk. Emergency treatment meant Idia was soon fed and Mary was able to breastfeed again. Idia’s twin died at home before being admitted to hospital. Photo: Phil Hatcher Moore

Thousands and thousands of New Zealanders have contributed to UNICEF’s campaign, and every one of those donations has helped save the lives of children and families.

MFAT provided $250,000 to fund UNICEF’s life-saving work with malnourished children.

To everyone who has made a contribution to this crisis, we thank you.

But we can’t pretend the job is done. It isn’t, not by a long shot.

People draw water from a borehole in the river bed running through Aburoc. Water is in short supply as the village’s six wells struggle to meet the demands of the influx of people. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

In South Sudan, people’s ability to feed themselves has been severely eroded — a crisis driven by armed conflict, below-average harvests, and soaring food prices.

In the south-west, until recently the country’s bread basket, there are unprecedented levels of hunger caused largely by conflict.

Farming communities have been driven over the border into neighbouring countries, leaving behind untended fields.

Jane Tiko feeds a therapeutic formula to her nine-month-old son Simon Ladok in the malnutrition ward in the Al-Sabbah children’s hospital in Juba. The ward is for children who suffer from malnutrition and associated complications. In May 2017, UNICEF and partners screened 149,655 children for malnutrition. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

We know there are still critics, and disbelievers. People who say it’s a situation that hasn’t changed for 30 years.

We received this message during the week: “It’s getting frustrating donating to organisations and then what another generation of kids dying. It’s been going on & on & on. Talk about ineffective.”

We can appreciate the frustration. No-one wants to see children dying. But it’s one of the challenges of trying to bring about change on a continent that covers a fifth of the world’s total land area, and has a population numbering more than 1.2 billion.

A child cooks on a campfire in Aburoc. Waves of fighting have displaced families, predominantly from the Shilluk tribe in the Upper Nile State, multiple times in the past few months. Many have ended up here. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

There was another message sent to us. “The gateway to heaven will set these people free. Money isn’t bringing change.”

Again, that’s not true, without money tens of thousands of children would have already died, but this effort is about so much more than money. It’s also about support, awareness, expertise.

We’re also not prepared to let children die. Whether you believe in the gateway to heaven or not, our mission is to delay that trip as long as possible.

So what’s being done? Between UNICEF and our partners, heaps.

UNICEF staff and porters unload a helicopter during a resupply of a joint UNICEF-WFP Rapid Response Mission. These missions supply remote populations with food, health services, water and sanitation supplies. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

Already in 2017, the World Food Programme has reached 3.4 million people in South Sudan with life-saving food assistance.

UNICEF has treated more than 76,000 children suffering from the worst form of malnutrition, and will reach more than 700,000 children in total by the end of the year.

A young boy sings into a megaphone during a dance event. Child-friendly Spaces like this allow children to play and develop, playing an key role in in giving them a sense of normalcy amid chaos. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

We have provided half a million people with safe drinking water, and another 200,000 people with sanitation facilities. Hundreds of thousands more are being provided with access to education and safe, child-friendly spaces.

A man weeds a vegetable patch planted with aubergine, part of a programme for growing nutritious food in Bentiu, South Sudan. UNICEF and a local partner are promoting the diversification of diet, in a region where many people are reliant on distributions of basic foodstuffs such as sorghum and dried beans. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has provided fishing, crop, and vegetable-growing kits to almost 3 million people, and vaccinated more than 6 million livestock.

Everyone knows the old adage: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

Elizabeth Abraham, a mother of five, plants tomato crops in in Bentiu. Elizabeth used to have a large plot of land before the conflict in South Sudan started in 2013. She now plants crops in a UNICEF supported project which aims to train 30,000 mothers, whose children are malnourished, in agricultural practice. Photo: Phil Hatcher-Moore

The good news is that in countries like South Sudan, UNICEF and partners are doing both, but we can’t do it without the generous support of New Zealanders.

Together, we’ve saved thousands upon thousands of lives. There are many more to save, and with your help, we look forward to saving them.

Children walk at sunset through the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu, South Sudan. Around 60 per cent of those displaced are under 18 years of age. Many have witnessed unspeakable horrors and suffer the trauma associated with war. Education is one ray of light shining through the cracks of their young country. Photo” Phil Hatcher-Moore

To support UNICEF’s work with the children of South Sudan, click here.

This article was first published on stuff.co.nz.