Southern Sudan: Critical Nutritional Situation in Many Areas of Bahr-el-Ghazal Province

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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Geneva/Paris, July 19, 2005 – Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in several areas of Bahr-El-Gazal province in southern Sudan, are treating a growing number of children suffering from severe malnutrition.

Following a poor harvest and insufficient rains the nutritional situation is critical in numerous villages. Food stocks have been exhausted for months and the situation will continue to deteriorate until the next harvest in September. In parts of Bahr-El-Ghazal, the precarious nutritional situation has been aggravated by the return of displaced people and refugees following the peace agreements. Tens of thousands of people have returned to Aweil East county alone.

Yet food assistance has not been forthcoming. Despite the fact that the World Food Program (WFP) had warned of a particularly difficult hunger gap period this year, the quantities of food received by the most vulnerable are largely insufficient. This is clearly shown by the extremely worrying malnutrition rates in the area.

"To date, and despite the high levels of malnutrition in March, there has been no general food distribution in Marial Lou and Paliang. Those planned by the World Food Program in spring for the Tonj area, did not take place in sufficient amounts. WFP has told us they will implement a first distribution in July only. These distributions will not cover the entire population, but only those identified as vulnerable and with partial food rations," explains Sally Stevenson, MSF head of mission in southern Sudan.

In Aweil East county, MSF teams have seen, over the past weeks, a significant increase in admissions to their nutritional centers in Akuem. "Each week, up to 60 severely malnourished children, who without immediate medical assistance will die, are admitted into our feeding centers. The situation is particularly critical: according to an Epicentre survey conducted between June 18th and 22nd, there is 4% of severe malnutrition and 26% of global malnutrition, which represents about 7,000 children suffering from malnutrition in that area only," explains Claire Magone, MSF head of mission responsible for MSF programs in Akuem in southern Sudan.

In Tonj district, MSF teams have already treated more than 1,500 children. The nutritional situation was already critical in March, with 2.8 % severe malnutrition and 21% of global malnutrition rates. This means that at least 6,000 children in the area suffered from malnutrition. "Now that we are at the peak of the hunger gap, the situation is only worse, particularly since no food distributions have taken place. We are now preparing to distribute supplementary food rations for 7,600 children under five years old and their families," stresses Sally Stevenson.

Faced with this, MSF is increasing its response and is beginning widespread food distribution for 28,000 children in the Aweil East and the Tonj areas, but MSF does not have the capacity to cover the entire area.

Despite the long-awaited return of peace and the predictability of this critical hunger gap period, the southern Sudanese still live in extremely precarious conditions. Their survival remains at the mercy of even a small harvest deficit and the region has received insufficient international assistance.