Aid worker Kai Joseph: Four million children in South Sudan suffer from malnutrition

A rapidly escalating hunger crisis threatens much of the population of the world’s newest country, with more than half the population now suffering from acute food insecurity. Four million children suffer from malnutrition. They consume too few meals a day or do not get the necessary nutrients from their food.

“Internal conflicts and floods have displaced nearly two million South Sudanese,” said Kai Joseph, a South Sudanese staff member of Save the Children, at the organization’s office in The Hague. Visits the Netherlands for appointments with partner organisations. South Sudan is a country where people grow their own food. The fields are now deserted or flooded. “Growing food is not possible.”

Food insecurity is a growing problem. In September, aid organizations warned in a joint letter that every four seconds someone in the world dies of starvation. Joseph watched his country decline for years. Due to malnutrition, children remain smaller than their peers in other countries and contract all kinds of diseases.

The aid worker knows what it’s like to be on the run: He’s spent time in a refugee camp himself. He decided to dedicate himself in his work to the most vulnerable in his country. “Children do not have a choice, they do not participate in conflicts. They are just victims.”

Joseph cannot give one definitive cause for the food problem in his country. “Disasters follow one another, so now food insecurity is at an all-time low,” he says. Floods have ravaged South Sudan since 2019, and there is social and political unrest in the country. A report released Thursday said starvation is being used as a weapon of war by South Sudan’s military, allied militia and opposition forces. As a result, more and more people are fleeing, exacerbating Africa’s largest refugee crisis.

In 2022, the European Union will allocate €85.3 million for humanitarian aid in South Sudan. But conflicts in the rest of the world mean that aid money has to be distributed to more countries and there is less money for South Sudan, while the problems are mounting. Joseph does not accuse the West of favoring Ukraine, but warns not to forget countries like South Sudan. “Countries have provided aid to South Sudan for a long time, and it would be a waste of effort if all this aid goes to waste,” says the aid worker.

Dire situation

He talks about the horrific case of a refugee family he met during one of his project visits. His voice becomes noticeably softer and he no longer makes eye contact. “It’s hard to go back to the moment,” he begins.

The mother was fleeing violence in the area with three young children. The eldest child has already died. Father remained to fight.

The mother and her three children were able to reach a safe place. But later she had to flee again due to floods. Then I got to the place where I met Joseph. As aid workers, we first check whether children are malnourished. This was true of two of the children. One of them also contracted pneumonia from the flooding, and sadly passed away before being taken to the emergency hospital.

“It was terrible,” he continues. “You can’t imagine how a mother would lose two children in such a short period of time. It wasn’t long until she heard her husband died in battle. “Almost all the family is gone.”

With Save the Children predicting that the situation in South Sudan will only worsen during the worst global hunger crisis of this century, Joseph continues to sound the alarm about the need for an international response. The population has Currently need help.”

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