South Sudan | food crisis

South Sudan: 'My husband told us to run'

When fighting broke out in Unity State last year, Abuk Deng's husband told her to take their children and run. Today, she supports some of the estimated 1.5 million people also displaced by South Sudan's conflict


By Action Against Hunger

Mar 5 2015

When fighting broke out in Mayom, a town in Unity State, last year, Abuk Deng's husband told her to grab their four children and run for their lives.

While her husband stayed behind to fight, she did as he said and ran.

"My husband remained fighting but he told me to run with the children because many people were certain to die," she recalled. "So I took the children and ran with others from my area."

Since conflict erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 more than 1.5 million people like Abung Deng have been forced to flee their homes. Living under the threat of violence, with no clear end to the war in sight, they have been separated from their livelihoods, livestock, and crops. Weakened by waterborne illness and malnutrition, stocks are depleted and coping mechanisms have eroded.

For Abung Deng and her children, the journey to reach the relative safety of a displacement camp in Man Awan, Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, took several days and was fraught with danger.

"First of all, there was no food and no water so the children and I were very hungry," Abung Deng recalled. "Our neighbours helped us. They gave us some water and food until we reached Man Awan. And when we finally arrived at the camp we found some organisations who came and supported us and gave us food.

Life-saving treatment

By the time they arrived, Abung Dengís youngest son Emanuel Charles, now 3, was dangerously malnourished.

Our team admitted him into our therapeutic feeding programme, where he was given a high-calorie, nutrient-enriched nut-based paste, called Plumpy Nut.

"He was given Plumpy Nut until he was okay and then a corn soya blend was provided to us," Abung Deng said. "He was eating well after that."

Sadly, this familyís fight against malnutrition is far from unusual. A shocking 2.5 million people are facing emergency food insecurity right now in South Sudan.

Community care

With funding short and resources limited, it is vital the local community know how to spot malnutrition and get help quickly. They also need to know how they can help prevent the condition developing. That's why Action Against Hunger enlists the support of community members like Abung Deng. She is one of 15 community nutrition volunteers selected at Man Awan camp to support other families. All of the volunteers fled fighting, all live in the camps and, most importantly, they know the children who live there.

We train these nutrition volunteers to measure the middle upper arm circumference of the child using a simple, colour-coded tape that helps identify malnourished children. When they discover children who need treatment, they refer them to the nearest clinic.

In a bid to prevent malnutrition cases, we also encourage the formation of volunteer support groups that can promote good hygiene and encourage breastfeeding and complementary feeding.

"I enjoy my job as a volunteer," Abuk Deng said. "We monitor the children in the camps and screen them, give some health education and we participate in food distributions too when necessary. We also receive food for the work that we are doing."

"My only request is that Action Against Hunger continues to provide these services to those displaced by the fighting because I've seen the difference it makes. Please don't stop."

A forgotten crisis

International funding for South Sudan is now vital to ensure such support doesn't stop. An unprecedented number of crises worldwide mean South Sudan and its children are at risk of being forgotten by the world just when they need us most.

Like us, Abuk Deng is fearful of what that could mean for the health of her son and tens of thousands of other children like him.

"I have experienced the good work Action Against Hunger has done," she said. "It is helping these children. It must continue."

Action Against Hunger has been in what is now South Sudan for more than 25 years, responding to high malnutrition rates, lack of access to clean water, and chronic food insecurity. But our presence in South Sudan today is more important than ever.

The nutrition situation is so dire, and in such a large part of the country, that a large-scale, well-resourced intervention is necessary to avert disaster in 2015.

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© 2015 Andrew Parsons / i-Images for Action Against Hunger