South Sudan: “the year for death”
The reach of the East African food crisis is far and wide, with over 20 million people affected over a massive area. Birgit Kubelka works as a nutritionist for Caritas in South Sudan, one of the countries where for some people a regular meal has become a luxury.
The food crisis in South Sudan is in part due to drought, but also conflict.
A Caritas assessment in Ikwoto County, South Sudan, in August showed that half of the adult population was eating just one meal a day. In many areas of Eastern Equatoria State the first harvests of sorghum, maize and millet failed completely this year. The food crisis in South Sudan is in part due to drought, but also conflict.
“People are resorting to coping strategies like selling their livestock and gathering wild foods such as wild tubers, coconut sprout and seedlings,” says Birgit Kubelka, a nutritionist for Caritas Switzerland. “Some people harvest crops before they’re mature or they migrate to bigger villages or towns in search for food and labour.”
Some of the wild foods eaten are poisonous and require special processing before they can be eaten. There are reports of children having died because of having eaten poisonous foods which haven’t been cooked.
Children are particularly vulnerable in a food crisis as nutritious food is essential to help them grow. Birgit says that 50 percent or more children suffer from chronic malnutrition in southern Sudan and this has a massive impact on children’s lives.
“Malnutrition has severe social consequences because of frequent illness,” says Birgit Kubelka. “Malnourished children have a higher risk of death. Poor nutrition hinders mental development and learning capacity and this has implications on school performance and future job opportunities.”
By June 2009, over 15 percent of children under five in Ikwoto County were suffering from acute malnutrition.
Birgit says that in the long-term, apart from the impact it has on people’s health and prospects, malnutrition can have a much wider impact on people’s lives.
“Malnutrition reduces productivity and income because people have a reduced ability to cultivate fields and do other work,” she says. “Where women are concerned, underweight mothers not only risk dying during pregnancy and delivery, but their children are often born with a low birthrate and this creates an inter-generational cycle of malnutrition.
Caritas launched an appeal for Western and Eastern Equatoria in October to provide food items and seeds and to improve sanitation facilities. For some people, their only chance to get a regular meal will be to rely on agencies such as Caritas.
“People are desperate and have very little hope for the future. Many people are saying that ‘this year is only for death’,” says Birgit. “Their only hope is that there will be assistance from the outside to alleviate their suffering.”
Some malnutrition facts
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