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In Sudan, a massive nutrition survey provides much needed data

By Sven G. Simonsen

Nyala, South Darfur, Sudan – January 2014: A new survey method has been used for the first time in Sudan to collect data on child malnutrition. The Simple Spatial Survey Method (S3M) can be used to cover larger areas than other methods, and shows the difference in performance of health and nutrition services right down to locality level in each of Sudan’s 18 states.

It is the most extensive survey of its kind ever conducted in Sudan, and its findings will enable UNICEF to target with great precision the girls and boys most in need of support. Across the country, hundreds of surveyors have braved insecurity, rough roads, high temperatures and heavy rains to collect the data.

“This is a very challenging environment to operate in, so the fact that the teams managed to complete the survey makes it a success story,” says Babikir Noraldein, Nutrition Officer for UNICEF in Nyala, capital of South Darfur. “This method will be a very useful tool for our future interventions.”


The S3M survey includes household data on areas such as malnutrition, food security, breastfeeding, health care, hygiene, antenatal care and more. Entering communities and visiting households to collect such detailed information requires sensitivity to local customs. When they enter an area, surveyors had to first get permission from the local community leader, the sheikh.

When visiting a new household, they first approached the mother. If she confirmed that the household had children under the age of five, the surveyors would first conduct a detailed interview and then measure the children aged under five; their height, weight, and mid-upper arm circumference.

Working in a conflict environment

Indicative of the conflict environment in Darfur, the sheikhs of two villages refused to cooperate with the surveyors because the survey included taking GPS coordinates of the villages; the sheikhs did not trust that the data would not be used in hostilities in the future.

84 out of 133 planned area surveys were completed in South Darfur. The uncompleted ones were mainly due to the security situation, and because the targeted populations were nomads who had moved to other areas.

“The data collected is of high quality, and the instances where areas could not be reached will not affect the total results,” says Mohammed Omer Ali, Nutrition Director and Public Health Care Director at South Darfur’s Ministry of Health.

Covering gaps

Several nutrition surveys have been conducted in the Darfur states in recent years, to assess the hardship suffered by the population following the armed conflict that began in 2003. It’s therefore already known that the food security situation is at crisis levels in parts of these states, as well as in neighbouring South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

“Still, we have had information gaps for some localities, and these gaps will be covered by the S3M survey. Now we will have baseline data for the entire state,” Mohammed says. “For many other parts of the country, the S3M offers even bigger improvement in data quality compared to what already existed,” he adds.

As the S3M findings allow for more accurate comparison within and between states, the survey will serve as a precision tool to reach Sudan’s most vulnerable girls and boys.



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