Fighting famine
in East Africa

Rapid response for children and families in South Sudan

Safe from war, not from hunger

When the war forced Jany to leave her village two years ago, she fled to an island in the swamps of Leer County, deep in South Sudan’s Unity State. “The war has affected all of us in this community,” she says. “We came to this island because it was too dangerous to live in our village.”

Today, Jany and her one-year-old daughter Nyakui are struggling. They may be safe from the fighting, but in this remote location they’re cut off from healthcare and humanitarian aid. “Finding food is a problem,” Jany says. “We go hungry often.”

And they’re not alone. Across the country, three years of conflict have severely damaged crops and food production. As a result, more than 270,000 children in South Sudan are suffering from severe malnutrition.

“Children have been deprived of basic services because of the situation in the country,” says Kibrom Tesfaselassie, a nutrition specialist with Unicef in South Sudan.

Jany Kuong, 20, holds her baby girl Nyakuiy Kay.

Jany, 20, holds her one-year-old baby girl Nyakuiy: "Finding food is a problem. We go hungry often."
Photo: Unicef/Siegfried Modola

Unicef’s rapid response to save lives

Kibrom and his Unicef colleagues have teamed up with the World Food Programme (WFP) and partners to reach some of the most vulnerable children – just like Nyakui – through a series of rapid response helicopter missions, to some of South Sudan’s hardest-to-reach areas, including Leer County.

During the missions, WFP delivers food supplies, while Unicef specialist staff screen children for malnutrition and provide life-saving treatment for the most severely malnourished children.

The Unicef/WFT rapid response mission lands in Leer County, South Sudan in March 2017.

A Unicef/WFP rapid response mission helicopter brings vital supplies to treat and prevent malnutrition in some of the hardest-to-reach areas of South Sudan.

Unicef South Sudan nutrition specialist Kibrom measures a young boy's upper arm circumference to determine whether he is malnourished. Photo: Unicef / Siegfried Modola

Once on the ground, Unicef nutrition specialist Kibrom measures a young boy's mid upper arm to determine whether he's malnourished.

Two-year-old Nyalel is suffering form malnutrition. Her aunt, Angelina, carried her for two hours to get care. including high-energy peanut paste, during our rapid response mission this week. Photo: Unicef/Modola

Nyalel, 2, suffers from malnutrition. Her aunt, Angelina, carried her for two hours to get her vital care, including peanut paste, during our rapid response mission.

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Unicef nutrition specialist Kibrom Tesfaselassie during a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) mission in Thonyor, South Sudan. Photo: Modola/Unicef
The biggest challenge is the transportation of big amounts of humanitarian supplies to such remote areas of the country.

My aim to reach and help all these children, boys and girls who are expecting our help.

Kibrom, Unicef nutrition specialist

Immediate help, long-term prevention

As well as providing emergency treatment for children suffering from life-threatening malnutrition, Kibrom and his colleagues prevent countless future cases through specialist screening. Basic health services like vaccination and safe water supplies help protect children from deadly disease.

Unicef staff help to stop children becoming malnourished again, by supporting mothers with advice about food preparation, including the vital role of exclusive breastfeeding. The rapid response team also registers unaccompanied children, in order for them to be reunited with their families, and supports basic education activities.

Unicef Nutrition Specialist, Kibrom Tesfaselassie gives a child a vitamin supplement during a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) mission in Thonyor, Leer County, South Sudan. Photo: Unicef/Modola

Kibrom gives a child a vitamin supplement during the rapid response mission in Thonyor, Leer County, South Sudan.

Breastfeeding education during a rapid response mission to address malnutrition in South Sudan. Photo: Unicef/Modola

The Unicef team provide breastfeeding education to help mums prevent malnutrition in children during a rapid response mission in South Sudan.

Women carry the vaccines, delivered by Unicef through the rapid response mission in Leer County, South Sudan.

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All photography: Unicef/2017/Modola