South Sudan: A race to save young lives
With 2.5 million people facing terrifying food shortages, award-winning photographer Andrew Parsons documents our work in one of the world's most under-reported crises
Feb 5 2015
Today, in war-torn South Sudan, 2.5 million people are at risk of life-threatening hunger. Many are women, and children under the age of five.
The fighting, which began in December 2013, has disrupted marketplaces and livestock management and threatens the ability of communities to plant or harvest food.
Last year, famine was avoided thanks to a quick response by aid agencies and international donors, and a respite in fighting. But today, as efforts to end the conflict continue, so does the battle to ensure no more young lives are lost to hunger.
Our teams are helping families whose lives have been turned upside down by the violence. Many are living at camps like Man Awan (below) in Warrap state, where thousands of families have fled to escape intense fighting in nearby Unity State.
One-year-old Aleu Achor (pictured below) has been at Man Awan camp since April 2014. He was brought here by his mother, Atong Nyok (also pictured below), who fled fighting in Unity State last year with him and her two other children, Matong, 5, and Makuac, 3. In November she noticed Aleu was unwell and getting weak.
Atong sought our support. We have trained community members to spot signs of potentially dangerous malnourishment in children under the age of five. A simple colour-coded tape allows community nutrition volunteers such as Julia Charles John (below right) to measure a child's middle upper arm circumference and identfy potentially dangerous malnutrition.
Aleu was measured and, suspected of being severely malnourished, quickly referred to the nearest Action Against Hunger stabilisation centre for help.
At such centres, children are first weighed and measured to assess the severity of their condition.
Based on the assessments, a tight treatment regime immediately begins.
Treatment differs according to the severity of the child's condition but for many, like Aleu, it includes the provision of a high-calorie, nutrient-enriched peanut paste.
With access to food limited, parents are struggling to provide their children with the vitamins they need to grow and develop. To help, our teams are providing young children in camps for the displaced with multivitamin supplements.
Atong knows an unbalanced diet is to blame for her son Aleu's condition but she feels powerless to change the situation.
"Our children are too small and there is nothing that I can give to them," she said. "We have no money to buy millet at the market and there's nothing we can do to change that situation. We are reliant on Action Against Hunger and other organisations to support us."
We are helping hundreds of families like Atong's, but there are many more who still need our support. The UN estimates US$600 million is needed this month to meet the needs of South Sudan's civilians. With an unprecedented number of crises unfolding worldwide, we must make sure children like Aleu don't get forgotten.
"Now is the time to amplify efforts," said Andrew Tamburini, CEO of our sister organisation in the US. "We must act now to pre-position food and scale up response capacity.
To break the cycle of hunger, we must ensure that food security assistance like seeds and tools are in place before the planting season in April and May.
To break the cycle of violence, a political solution must be found.
All images © 2015 Andrew Parsons / i-Images for Action Against Hunger
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