As households struggle to find food, children are bearing the brunt
South Darfur - In 2020, Sudan saw five major shocks: COVID-19 and its impact, locusts, floods, inter-communal tension and conflict, and the influx of refugees from neighbouring Ethiopia.
The humanitarian situation throughout Sudan has continued to deepen in 2021. In fact, there has been a nearly 45% increase in the number of people who are vulnerable, according to the humanitarian needs analysis conducted in December of 2020.
As such, the most vulnerable people like displaced people are becoming even more vulnerable. Of the 13.4 million people in need, 7.3 million need emergency assistance for life-threatening needs; nearly half are children (Sudan Humanitarian Needs Overview 2021).
As households struggle to access food and feed their families, children are bearing the brunt. At the Otash Sector 13 clinic Outpatient Therapeutic Programme (OTP) section, nutrition officers are busy screening children with severe cases of malnutrition. Some being admitted for the first time, others are visiting for follow-ups and replenishing Plumpy'Nut.
For example, when 16 months old Naima, was first brought in a few short weeks ago, she was so extremely underweight that nutrition officers said just from observing that there was no need to weigh her. During our visit, officers say her weight had slightly improved to 4.8 kilograms, and she was continuing with her rehabilitation. Naima’s mother, Mariam, had brought her child for routine monitoring, and to pick sachets of Plumpy'Nut.
Mariam Hamed sat sombre at the OTP, in her arms she cradled her son, Mohaned, 12 months old, and weighing 6 kilograms. Mohaned was irritable, would cry at times, and did not want to feed on the Plumpy'Nut paste. His eyes were pale and alert, his hair a light brown. Nutritionists also identified these as signs of malnutrition and lack of proper nutrients. His skin around the neck area was also wrinkled.
In July, nutrition officers recorded 40 cases of severe acute malnutrition in children under five. 130 cases of Moderate Acute Malnutrition were also recorded, 22 of who were pregnant and lactating women. In 2021, 208 Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) cases were admitted and undergone or undergoing rehabilitation, while of the children screened, 20 were found to be normal.
Nutrition officers and volunteers say when they talk to most mothers, they attribute their children’s malnutrition to food unavailability. “It has worsened for a lot of households during the lean season (May- October)”, says Fatma Fudheil, a nutrition officer seconded from the State Ministry of Health.
The deepening food insecurity is further amplified by the enduring effects of inflation, which has seen the prices of goods increasingly go high.
Data from the Market-Based Food Security Monitoring (MBFSM) report for South Darfur, covering the period July 2020 to July 2021, reveals the ripple effects of inflation on consumers.
For example, a kilogram (also kilo) of sugar which is arguably the most used commodity in every Sudanese household costs 350 SDGs* when compared to 120 SDGs during the same period last year. Similarly, the prices of millet and sorghum which are commonly used to make ‘asida’ (a staple food for most Sudanese households), have increased a hundred-fold.
Tomatoes for a family of six per day as of July cost 685 SDGs, an increase from 150 SDGs in January 2021, while vegetable oil per litre now retails at 1,362 SDGs when compared to 415 SDGs in the same period last year.
Conflict too, has driven people out of their homes, further worsening their ability to access food. Most of the mothers who had visited the OTP, had recently arrived in Otash camp, having been displaced from different parts of Darfur including East Jebel Marra and Al Geneina in West Darfur.
Afaf AlNasir had visited the Targeted Supplementary Feeding Programme (TFSP) in Otash clinic, where she received ‘PlumpyDoz, a nutritious supplement to give to her daughter, Hanan, even though not visibly malnourished, nutrition officers said, could be at risk of malnutrition. According to World Vision nutrition officer, Rasha Ismail, ‘PlumpyDoz is given to ‘normal’ children aged between six and 24 months, to prevent malnutrition where the threat is high.
Afaf fled Al Geneina, arriving in Otash IDP camp five months ago. Tens of thousands have fled their homes in the last six months and sought safety and assistance at Otash. She feared that her child risked becoming malnourished, if the food situation did not improve.
As she awaited registration and verification as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), she picked jobs in town mostly doing domestic chores, which earned her some 300 SDGs a day. “It’s tough here because we don’t receive assistance yet, but going back home now is not an option”, Afaf said.
World Vision is running the OTP and TFSP as part of its interventions in addressing malnutrition in children, pregnant and lactating women, funded by UNICEF and WFP respectively. Other health interventions at the clinic are funded by the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).
The IDPs, including the new arrivals also have access to water, sanitation and hygiene services, albeit they are under strain now, as the number of users increases.
In partnership with WFP, World Vision is also providing food and cash-based assistance. In July, 31,000 IDPs in the camp which is home to about 80,000 IDPs, received cash.
According to Mashingaidze, Food and Cash Assistance Manager - South Darfur Programme, in July 2021, 157,000 IDPs across three camps in South Darfur received cash assistance, with a household of five receiving US$22. “Beneficiaries can buy whatever is affordable with the cash”, says Mashingaidze.
Article and photos by Lucy Murunga, Communications and Advocacy Manager, WV Sudan
*Notes to the editor: Exchange rate as of July 2021, 1 US$ = 445 Sudanese Pounds (SDGs).