Famine in South Sudan: The desperate struggle for survival

A young boy waits to receive supplementary feeding from CARE staff at Bentiu, South Sudan

The desperate struggle for survival since famine was declared in South Sudan leads mothers and young children to walk for days in search of food and health care. Here are some of their stories.

Two-year-old Nhial in South Sudan
Two-year-old Nhial was suffering from TB and malnutrition before arriving at the camp

Nyakuok carried her grandson Nhial for four days to reach the UN Protection of Civilians (POC) site in Bentiu and get medical care. Nhial has tuberculosis and was found to be severely malnourished when they arrived. He was treated by CARE with plumpy nut food supplement. Nyakuok says:

I left some family behind and I am worried about them because they have no food there and they are very young children who can’t walk here.

Martha Nyayok with her one-year-old daughter Nyariek
Martha Nyayok with her one-year-old daughter Nyariek

We had no food so we were walking for days to try and find food. The last time I could harvest my own fields was two years ago.

It took Martha Nyayok five days to walk to the POC and she had to threaten and cajole her five young children to keep them moving. Recurrent fighting meant that the family could not grow their own food any more. To survive, Martha and her children were forced to forage for wild fruits. She says:

We will stay here now – I thought before that the fighting would end, but it is increasing and the suffering is increasing.

Nyamuoch Nguang, age 3, South Sudan
Nyamuoch Nguang, age 3, from Leer county – one of the three counties in South Sudan’s Unity State where famine was declared in February 2017

Sometimes we could spend a day and a half without food.

Before fighting broke out in 2013 Nyamuoch’s family grew maize, whea and peanuts and had 100 cows, but all was destroyed or taken. Nyamuoch’s 16-year-old aunt Nyakuma says:

“We didn’t have anything to eat there. The soldiers came at night and killed the men and chased the women and stole what we had.”

We used to go to the river and look for water lilies to survive.

Nyamuoch and Nyakuma are now staying with 24 other people in one small shelter at the POC camp. Nyakuma says:

I only hope the war can be stopped so we can cultivate and have food again.

Nyapen Puok and her baby son Chiok Kuol Kaang
Nyapen Puok and her 9-month-old son Chiok Kuol Kaang

Before the crisis we ate all the time. Now we eat once a day.

Nyapen Puok has six children and Chiok is the youngest. He was suffering from severe malnutrition when they arrived at the POC. Nyapen hasn’t been able to produce milk since giving birth to Chiok as she doesn’t get enough food to produce any. A year ago, the children’s father was chased away by armed men and the family haven’t seen him since. Nyapen says:

We kept thinking we would harvest at the end of last year [2016] but we couldn’t. We were attacked and beaten in our homes every day. We harvested a little three months ago but most of it was taken by armed men.

Nyarmon Dak and her 7-month-old son, Nyachiong
Nyarmon Dak and her 7-month-old son, Nyachiong

Every day there was fighting and people running away and now there is no food for my children. The whole village is suffering and I worry all the time for my children.

Nyarmon Dak, age 34, used to walk for seven days to Bentiu and seven days back in search of food for her family. But the constant search for food “has led my child to be malnourished,” she says, because she herself is so weakened that she can’t produce breast milk for 7-month-old Nyachiong.

When they arrived at the camp, Nyachiong was found to be severely malnourished and was enrolled on the CARE supplementary feeding programme.

How CARE is helping

Nyamouch being given vitamin A by CARE staff
Nyamouch being given vitamin A by CARE staff
Chiok being given plumpy nut food supplement
Chiok Kuol Kaang being given plumpy nut food supplement
CARE staff check a woman at the health centre at Bentiu
CARE staff check pregnant and lactating women for malnutrition at the health centre at Bentiu

Peter Mathok Nyoap, a CARE community nutrition volunteer in South Sudan

Peter Mathok Nyoap (above) is a CARE community nutrition volunteer. £65 pays for the monthly salary of a community nutrition volunteer like Peter. He carries out house-to-house nutritional screening and referrals of malnourished children as well as providing advice on proper feeding techniques to pregnant and lactating mothers.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.