Anne Marie McCarthy, Plan International Ireland’s Emergencies’ Programme Manager reports live from South Sudan.
When we were kids, when we would go for a spin (Sunday drive), our father would tell us to sit up and look out the window. I remembered these memories during our helicopter flight to visit Plan International’s emergency response in the east of South Sudan. I was looking out the window, to get a better view of South Sudan from the air, while my fellow passengers were trying to sleep. Despite the drought in some areas, I was surprised by how much green I could see from the window of the helicopter.
We were supposed to go in a UN plane, but because of the amount of rain that had fallen the night before, it would have been impossible to land a plane on the unsealed airstrip in Kapoeta, so we took a helicopter instead.
I was in South Sudan to do a review of the emergency response that Plan International Ireland has mounted since the declaration of famine in February, in Unity State, one of the northern states of the country.
Up to 2 million people are in need of urgent food in South Sudan, as a result of a combination of conflict-related displacement and drought-related crop failures. The challenges facing South Sudan are huge – conflict, displacement, almost non-existent road infrastructure, really low literacy rates and high inflation rates.
Children who remain out of school are particularly susceptible to dangerous labour practices, early and forced marriage, recruitment into armed groups, and other negative coping mechanisms such as crime, substance abuse, and perpetuating gender based violence.
In Kapoeta, where I visited, there are areas where it only rained once last year, and in a fertile area which could more or less feed itself in the past, people nowadays are facing a hunger crisis. In Kapoeta, Plan South Sudan is supporting a nutrition programme for under 5s, and pregnant and lactating women.
We are also working with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to distribute seeds and tools to 18,500 families. In this area, it is mostly the women who cultivate. For those farmers who are growing along the river, they receive vegetable seeds and a hoe. The World Food Programme (WFP) is also distributing food to the most vulnerable households so that they can eat until their crops grow.