Children in Peril: The Escalating Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan
October 2016 – Written by Gabriel Yahya Haage
The Republic of South Sudan, one the most recently formed countries, is facing catastrophic social and economic issues. When the 2011 referendum first created the nation of South Sudan, there was great hope it would be able to thrive and help heal a region that had been ravished by decades of war. The new government and the international community pledged to help build a stable state, by reducing conflict, offering citizens basic social services, and increasing economic development (ACAPS, 2015, pp. 4-6; UNICEF, 2016a, p. 2). Unfortunately, this has proven difficult, chiefly due to a weak government, prevalent disease and a lack of infrastructure.
In 2013, violence arose in the state of Juba, as supporters of former Vice President Riek Machar clashed with supporters of President Salva Kiir Mayardit (UNICEF, 2015, p. 20). The conflict spread throughout the country, with many aggressive confrontations between various pro and anti-government factions. While the Machar-led “SPLM-in-Opposition” was the primary and most widespread anti-government group, others were active on more local levels. A notable example is the “South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A),” led by David Yau Yau and centered in the Pibor region of the country (UNICEF, 2015, pp. 31-35). Confrontations were often both politically and ethnically motivated, particularly between the Nuer and the Murle people (ACAPS, 2015, p. 4).
A peace agreement between several factions was signed in August 2015, but it has had little effect. Confrontations continue and the need for humanitarian aid has increased. With record high levels of food insecurity and malnourishment, as well as rampant violence and displacement, this crisis is disproportionately affecting the nation’s children (UNICEF, 2016b, pp. 6-7).
The country is ranked last in terms of maternal mortality rate, with nearly 800 deaths per 100 000 births (Central Intelligence Agency, 2016). Child mortality remains high, with more than one in ten children dying before the age of five (UNICEF, 2016b, p. 12). Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) has also risen dramatically, affecting over 200 000 children by the end of 2015 (UNICEF, 2016b, p. 9). Limited access to clean drinking water is also a severe problem and diseases such as malaria and polio are widespread (UNICEF, 2016b, pp. 8-9).
Since the start of the 2013 crisis, there have been an estimated 1.69 million internally displaced people, 907 447 being children (UNICEF, 2016c, p. 1). Such children are often at risk of abuse by armed militias, with sexual and physical violence a common occurrence. Education in children is also severely lacking due to the ongoing crisis. Globally, South Sudan has the greatest proportion of children out of school, with more than 400 000 children not attending school (UNICEF, 2016b, p. 9). Girls are particularly affected, comprising only 1% of secondary school students (UNICEF, 2016b, p. 21). This is often due to unfortunate social norms (UNICEF, 2015, pp. 108-111).
Working with other organizations, including governmental agencies and international NGOs, UNICEF targets these issues. UNICEF and its partners have developed intensive and collaborative programs to address the various types of humanitarian needs in South Sudan. To more effectively distribute help, each program emphasizes a specific area, including health, nutrition, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), education, child protection and social policy(UNICEF, 2016a, pp. 4-9). UNICEF has achieved some notable successes, although much work remains to be done.
Since the 2013 conflict, UNICEF and its partners have helped reunited over 4300 children with their families (UNICEF, 2016d, p. 5). Vaccination campaigns are a pivotal part of UNICEF’s health program and have been quite successful. For instance, in 2016, UNICEF and its partners have worked tirelessly to vaccinate more than 400 000 children against measles (UNICEF, 2016d, p. 1). They hope to vaccinate over 1 million by the end of the year. Targeting nutritional problems, nearly 1.5 million children, aged 6 to 59 months, received much needed Vitamin A supplements, and over 900 000 children, between the ages of 12 and 59 months, received de-worming treatments (UNICEF, 2016d, p. 7). Headway has also been made in the realm of education. The education-centered cluster of UNICEF has helped provide access to education to over 280 000 children and hopes to nearly double that number by the end of 2016 (UNICEF, 2016d, p. 7).
Despite these and other successes, the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan remains a distressing reality. Sadly, for many children, this state of emergency is all they know. UNICEF, with the help of donors and partners, remains committed to ending the suffering of South Sudanese children.
ACAPS. (2015). South Sudan: Country Profile. Geneva: The Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS).
Central Intelligence Agency. (2016). South Sudan. In The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central
Intelligence Agency. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/od.html
UNICEF. (2015). Situation Assessment of Children and Women in South Sudan. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF. (2016a). Country Programme Document: South Sudan. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF. (2016b). South Sudan Annual Report 2015. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF. (2016c). South Sudan Humanitarian Situation Report 87. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF. (2016d). South Sudan Humanitarian Situation Report 94. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).