Volunteers to distribute relief supplies pose for a photo after training in Unity State
Photo courtesy of Episcopal Church of Sudan

Training session in Unity State for volunteers who will distribute food to the famine zone.

It’s difficult to plan for tomorrow when you are running for your life today.  

MCC’s Vurayayi Pugeni says that’s the situation faced by many people in South Sudan, where people are fleeing from conflict. In Unity State, where the United Nations (UN) has declared a famine, the situation is especially critical.

“People cannot work in their fields, they cannot harvest their produce, they cannot think about tomorrow because they are always on the run,” says Pugeni, MCC’s humanitarian relief coordinator.

He says some people leave so quickly, or often, that crops are left rotting in the fields. Drought has made the situation worse. The traditional coping strategies of selling livestock for income, borrowing money from family members or sharing food are no longer viable because all available resources are exhausted.

The UN reserves the designation of famine for dire situations, using criteria on food shortages, malnutrition and death. Pugeni says conditions in Unity State surpass those levels.

“There is a high number of people who are going to bed hungry. There’s a high number of people who are malnourished,” he says. “And mortality, the number of people dying, is higher than the UN threshold.”

Vurayayi Pugeni, MCC’s humanitarian relief coordinator, speaking at an event hosted by Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Photo courtesy of Canadian Foodgrains Bank

While food insecurity is acute in Unity State, it’s estimated that more than 40 percent of South Sudan’s population urgently needs food, nutritional and agricultural assistance. More than a million children under five years are malnourished.

Three million people are displaced from their homes; 1.3 million have left South Sudan altogether, seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

In 2014, Nyadnol Tut fled the conflict with her young daughter, while pregnant with her second child. Her husband stayed in South Sudan. It took Tut six months to reach the Tierkidi refugee camp in Ethiopia.

“On top of constantly worrying about my husband dying, my main problem here is to feed and clothe my children properly,” she says.

Nyadnol Tut, and her daughter Nyameer Thrajak, leave the distribution center at Tierkidi refugee camp with relief supplies.   IMC photo/Feleseta Kassaye

Tut receives MCC relief supplies, including canned meat. The distribution at camps in the Gambella region of Ethiopia is done through MCC’s partner, International Medical Corps.

In South Sudan, MCC is about to begin an emergency distribution of food in the famine zone. Two hundred and forty-five households in Unity State will receive a two month supply of sorghum (grain), beans, cooking oil and salt. The distribution is being done through MCC’s local partner, Episcopal Church of Sudan-Sudanese Development Relief Agency. The people distributing the food are familiar with the needs of the community.

“These are local people, South Sudanese helping each other.  Hopefully they will attract less criticism from the people doing the fighting,” Pugeni says.

MCC’s emergency response will focus on the most vulnerable; women, children, and destitute households that have run out of other food options. In addition, MCC is using funds from our Canadian Foodgrains Bank account to support a World Relief Canada project—centers will be set up to treat malnutrition in Unity Sate.

Pugeni says that ultimately only an end to the conflict will restore food security and a stable economy in South Sudan. In the meantime, people need help as they try to survive.

“These are not the people in the bush holding a gun or fighting” Pugeni says. “These are civilians who are supposed to be protected during a war, but they are in fact the most affected.”

To support MCC's relief work in South Sudan, visit donate.mcc.org/cause/south-sudan-relief. 

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