The warnings from the UN and humanitarian agencies are stark. South Sudan is on the brink of a humanitarian food crisis. If the conflict continues, if aid cannot get through to the hundreds of thousands displaced by fighting, if the rains cut off the roads and dirt air strips then 50,000 children aged under five could be dead by the end of the year.
The world's newest nation is on the verge of collapse.
Aid agencies are now in a race against time to scale up a response that will suck in massive amounts of food, extra air freight capacity and mobilise humanitarian responders from across the globe. Central to all of this is the ability to raise money fast – from governments, corporations and private individuals.
Looking at South Sudan from the outside it is easy to come up with reasons not to give: it’s another African catastrophe like so many before; the crisis is the result of poor leadership; nothing will improve until old tribal hatreds exploited by those in power come to an end. Many believe the money is simply not going to make a difference because the root causes of this crisis need tackling first.
arguments don't help hungry children
These arguments are all true but they don’t help a hungry child who is today the victim of circumstances far beyond their control. Where a nation’s children are suffering because of weak leadership the international community of those who care, including people like you and me, may be the only people who stand by the poor and vulnerable in their hour of need.
South Sudan’s children in particular need to be given a chance. The country - the world’s newest nation - is emerging from a 22-year battle for independence where the vast majority of people are illiterate and extremely poor and have only known fighting, displacement and instability. South Sudan is one of the poorest nations on earth.
Contrast the media coverage of South Sudan’s food crisis with that for the kidnap of over 200 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram. Media interest fueled by an international social media campaign to find the girls is driving search efforts by the Nigerian government and its military. Foreign military and intelligence experts are on the ground. The coverage demonstrates the people care when children suffer injustice.
Almost half of the 1.3 million who have fled fighting are children.
The situation facing children in South Sudan may not provide as clear a media narrative, nevertheless the futures of millions of children are hostage to poor governance, a lack of education, corruption, and a deficiency of laws and impartial enforcement. The current conflict between current and former members of the government is fueling the humanitarian crisis facing children. Almost half of the 1.3 million who have fled fighting are children. Nearly a quarter of a million children will be severely malnourished by the end of the year.
Rania, 14, is one of those who fled and among thousands to have received a food ration distributed by World Vision. She is currently taking refuge at a UN base just outside Malakal along with 20,000 others who are too terrified to go back to homes destroyed by militia. Rania suffers nightmares and cries at night from thinking about what she witnessed as she fled. Rania is just about surviving with the basics that aid agencies are providing. But her dream to be a doctor is in tatters now that her school has been trashed. The camp provides no formal schooling.
Shouldn’t we stand alongside children like Rania?
Kon Dimo, World Vision’s South Sudanese team leader in Malakal is one man completely committed to helping his people. He put it well when asked why people like me should give.
“We have to help the innocents, the people who have no power. If the UN was not here to protect the people thousands more would have died. If foreigners weren’t helping then cholera could take hold and kill many. Foreigners are paying for the vaccinations, for the water and sanitation systems, for the food that is keeping people alive. These things are already saving thousands of children’s lives and we are thankful,” he said.
When all else fails and when the poorest, weakest and youngest are abandoned, hopefully they can always turn to people elsewhere for support.
As a father with two young children it's impossible not to compare the horrible situation facing so many children in South Sudan with that of my own kids who have the good fortune to live in a country with decent government and laws, a social safety net, quality schooling and proper homes. The children in Malakal have none of that. I hope Rania's dream to be a doctor can find a future in South Sudan.
James East is the Emergency Communications Director for World Vision International, and provides strategic direction to the extensive network of communications professionals working around the globe for World Vision's crisis responses. He recently spent time in South Sudan.