South Sudan, Republic of

A taste of hope in South Sudan

By Kibrom Tesfaselassie

A mother receives help for her malnourished child from a joint UNICEF-WFP Rapid Response Mission, the sole source of food and medical assistance for thousands of South Sudanese affected by continued conflict and food crisis.

NHIALDIU, South Sudan, 12 November 2014 – In one hand, Nyakuoy cradles her 12-month-old baby boy, Nyepuote, close to her body, and in the other she holds a sachet of ready-to-use therapeutic food. Despite a hesitant start, her son is slowly getting used to the peanut-based paste that could save his life.

© UNICEF South Sudan/2014/Tesfaselassie
Nyakuoy, a 35-year-old mother of six, receives instruction from a UNICEF nutrition worker on giving ready-to-use therapeutic food and medicines to treat her 12-month-old son, Nyepuote, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

“At first he didn’t like it, but now after one hour he started to eat it very well,” a relieved Nyakuoy says, sitting on the floor of the Primary Health Care Centre in the remote village of Nhialdiu in South Sudan’s Unity State. Now that he has successfully passed the appetite taste, she can return home to care for him there. To help him recover from severe malnutrition, he has been prescribed a minimum of two sachets of therapeutic food a day.

This life-saving journey began when Nyakuoy made the decision to walk two hours from her village to meet the Rapid Response Mission (RRM) that had arrived to Nhialdiu by helicopter with essential services and supplies, carried out jointly by UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP). It has been 10 months of extreme hardship for women and children living in isolated locations like Nhialdiu. The community has taken in thousands of displaced people who have fled the population centres since conflict broke out, but no humanitarian assistance had reached them until this mission. In many locations, food stocks have run out and basic services like health care and education have stopped functioning.

A struggle

Nyepuote is first screened by the UNICEF team, who discover that his mid-upper arm circumference measurement is under 11.5 cm – a sign of severe malnourishment. He is immediately referred for therapeutic food treatment and receives vitamin A supplementation and a deworming tablet. In addition, a community nutrition worker gives Nyakuoy advice on feeding so that she can keep her baby strong and healthy. The mother listens attentively, eager to help her son. Every day is a struggle to provide for her youngest child. At 35 years old, Nyakuoy has six children to care for, and her husband is over 70 years old. She often sacrifices her own well-being for the sake of her family.

“I have not enough food at home, and my husband does not work. The limited amount of food is shared among my husband and elder children,” she says. “This child only has access to breast and cow’s milk and water since birth.”

Nyakuoy holds a bucket full of life-saving food for her baby and the hygiene kit items she has received: “I hope my child will get better soon,” she says. “No more dhar [clay container], which is extremely heavy.”

When the mission is complete, the UNICEF and WFP teams depart from Nhialdiu, but the work has only just begun. UNICEF will continue to support the reestablishment of services in Nihaldu over the coming months, including outpatient therapeutic feeding services to target severely malnourished children under age 5.

Rapid Response Missions have reached more than half a million people in remote and isolated locations of South Sudan, including 120,000 children under 5. For the tens of thousands of children like Nyepuote, the emergency assistance the missions provide may be their only hope of survival.

Rapid Response Missions are supported by funds from IKEA, the Common Humanitarian Fund for South Sudan and the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).




UNICEF Photography: Reaching remote areas


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