A combination of civil war, economic collapse and drought have pushed parts of the South Sudan into deadly famine and displaced millions of people. Access to famine-hit areas has been severely restricted by intense fighting: the NGO community has not been able to reach those in Unity State (the centre of the conflict) as a result.
Plan International is extremely concerned that the plight of children caught up in the crisis is deteriorating: over 270,000 children in the country are severely malnourished and almost 1.4 million are at imminent risk of death from the condition.
Because of the war, people have had to flee their homes, farms and livestock. They have been displaced for many months and, as a result, have lost their livelihoods and their very means of feeding their families.
The country has spiralled into an economic free-fall characterised by skyrocketing food and fuel prices, and an ever-rising cost of living. Trade and local markets have been disrupted and food stocks have depleted.
Millions have fled into the neighbouring countries of Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya for a better chance of survival.
We have nothing… Sometimes I am too sick and hungry to even wake up.
Many of those who have stayed in South Sudan are in internally displaced persons camps, where they are extremely vulnerable; children particularly so. With so little to eat their bodies are less able to withstand disease. They are as much at risk of death from malnutrition and disease from being caught in the crossfire.
William James, 17, is severely malnourished: “Our houses were burnt so my grandmother, my small brother and I had to flee for safety. We settled in this village in Eastern Equatoria but because we left all our belongings and food behind, we have nothing. We just eat leaves. My grandmother is the one who takes care of us. Sometimes I help her collect the leaves which we boil and eat. Sometimes I am too sick and hungry to even wake up.”
Susan, 16, says: “When armed men attacked our home, we all escaped in different directions. My parents and I were separated in the confusion when the men started shooting. I don’t know where they are.”
I fear I will not be able to finish school or find my parents but worse, I fear I will starve. We can only afford one meal a day, given by well-wishers. If I miss a meal, I have to wait until the next day. I feel very weak, my body shakes and I feel sick.
Girls often suffer the worst consequences during emergencies as their needs and rights are ignored. In the chaos of disaster, instances of rape, trafficking and early marriage increase. They may experience sexual abuse and harassment and will almost certainly be pulled out of school.
Adolescent girls are largely invisible in emergency situations as they are too young to be listened to and respected, but too old to be protected as a child might. Plan International’s humanitarian response keeps the wellbeing of children and adolescent girls at its heart, seeing them as one of the most vulnerable groups during crisis situations.
Plan International is working across Central Equatoria, Lakes, Eastern Equatoria and Jonglei states – some of which are in the crisis and emergency phase. We are also working in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) carrying out food distributions in Lakes and Jonglei states.
We are working to ensure that the most vulnerable children, especially girls, are protected from abuse, as well as ensuring that children affected by the crisis are able to continue their education.
Other countries in East Africa are also grappling with the food crisis. Besides South Sudan, Plan International is also working in Kenya providing urgent food supplies and lifesaving humanitarian support to children and families. Plus our programmes in Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan are also addressing the needs of South Sudanese refugees as they arrive.