MSF Warns: Urgent Efforts Needed to Avert Disaster in South Sudan

Nairobi/New York, June 8, 1998 — The international medical organization Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières reported a six-fold rise over the last 12 weeks in the number of children in 6 supplementary feeding centers in the province of Bahr el Ghazal, southern Sudan. MSF volunteers working there warned that the nutritional situation in Bahr el Ghazal is seriously deteriorating.

During the week of March 22, 1998, a total of 808 children were registered in 6 centers in Bahr el Ghazal. By May 31, the total number of children had increased to 5,037. In Leer Town, in the province of Western Upper Nile, 259 children were admitted in the first days of the feeding center, 128 of whom were severely malnourished. Since the 31st of May, 174 children weighing less than 60 percent of the normal weight for their height have been registered in the intensive feeding centers in Bahr el Ghazal. In the town of Aijep, 9 of the 1,459 children in the supplementary feeding center and 7 of the 63 children in the intensive feeding center have died over the past 2 weeks.

"There is a serious deterioration in the nutritional status of the vulnerable population of southern Sudan-supplementary and therapeutic food for the severely malnourished must go hand in hand with enough general food distribution to enable entire families to survive. Otherwise, the supplementary food is shared between the families and the vulnerable continue to suffer," said Marc Hermant, MSF Head of Mission. "Over half of the children attending our feeding centers are not improving because the distribution of food to the general population is inadequate. If sufficient food is not distributed quickly and widely, the population will face a disaster-we need to avert further crisis."

MSF, as part of Operation Lifeline Sudan* (OLS), is concerned that the current capacity of OLS is not sufficient to meet the needs of the 930,000 vulnerable South Sudanese. (OLS is an important structure that provides negotiated access to a broad population and support for the U.N. and non-governmental agencies operating in southern Sudan.)

Without a significant increase in capacity coupled with an increased daily ration of food, there is a risk that little impact will be made on the current catastrophe in southern Sudan. MSF appeals to the concerned governments of the international community to act now. OLS urgently needs extensive logistical support to help meet the daily needs of the suffering population of South Sudan.

Areas such as Bahr el Ghazal and Western Upper Nile have already suffered two consecutive poor harvests and continue to face conflict hence increased displacement. The time frame for seed planting has been extended, due to late rains. Reports from the field suggest that in certain regions, poor food stocks have put stress on the traditional coping mechanisms, which usually help the population survive the yearly hunger gap. It is crucial that sufficient food is distributed to sustain families in the period up to and beyond the next harvest, and seeds and tools must also be in place before the onset of heavy rains.

MSF is the world's largest independent emergency medical relief organization, providing aid to victims of armed conflict, natural and man-made disasters, and epidemic diseases, and to populations who lack of access to health care. Nearly 2,500 volunteers from 45 countries currently work with MSF, providing medical aid in more than 80 countries.