South Sudan: “if he starts getting food he may survive, but for now I don’t know”
Thomas*, age four, is sitting on the cracked dark soil of Akobo, his eyes barely open. He and his mother fled the conflict in Bor and came to Akobo for safety, but they are desperately hungry.
When Save the Children screened children for malnutrition, Thomas’s mother Mary* took him for a check. He was found to be severely malnourished.
“You can see he has grown thin…”
“My child is suffering from diarrhoea and skin rashes. The sickness started two weeks ago. You can see he has grown thin.
“He doesn’t eat properly, he drinks a lot of water,” Mary says. “We came from Bor because of the fighting; we left our food and other property, in Bor.
“Here, we were given food, but it is not enough. My child is now admitted to the Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding programme run by Save the Children; if he starts getting food, he may survive, but for now I don’t know what will happen to him.”
Looking at her son, Mary tells me, “he is desperate to eat but I have nothing to give him.”
All the children here are malnourished
I accompany our staff as they go door to door, screening children for malnutrition, as well as delivering health and nutrition education to mothers. Today, every child screened is either moderately or severely malnourished.
The majority of mothers in this area depend on gathering fruit and firewood to sell, but the rainy season is fast approaching: it will be harder to go to the bush to collect firewood, and the fruit will run out.
“I am selling these fruits so that I can buy food for my children. We eat one meal per day. If the fruits are not sold, we eat the fruit,” says Bethany*.
“The fruits are bitter and cause diarrhoea in children when they eat a lot of them and the diarrhoea cases are going to increase during the rainy season,” she continues.
Another mother tells me, “I am buying these fruits because I am hungry and I don’t have enough money to buy other foods like sorghum and lentils; we are going to share this among my seven children.”
One meal a day is not enough
Many families are restricting themselves to just one meal a day so that they can make the little they have last longer, but one meal a day is not enough for growing children.
Although Save the Children and partners such as the World Food Programme are working extremely hard to meet these children’s needs, access is becoming increasingly difficult, due to the conflict.
Blocked supply routes mean hungry children
Save the Children’s Field Manager in Akobo says, “It has become much harder to supply food for these malnourished children because we can no longer transport supplies by road or river. The only means is by air, which is expensive and weather-dependent, causing delays.”
And the children of Akobo cannot afford delays, or they may starve.
*Names changed to protect identity