South Sudan: Malnutrition crisis in Mayom county

Patients wait for nutrition screening at Mankien Primary Health Care Centre in Unity State, South Sudan

Right now, the land around Mankien in Mayom county, Unity state, is green and lush – the telltale sign that rain has recently fallen. But all is not as it seems. This year’s rains have been few, compounding the already fragile food situation.

There are no crops to be seen – and Mankien’s market, in the centre of town, is equally deceptive. It’s bustling with stalls selling soap, plastic shoes and football shirts. But there is little food for sale – mainly just small bags of sugar and salt. One of the few sacks of sorghum on display sells for as much as 60 US dollars, a fortune in this part of South Sudan.

One in three children is acutely malnourished

Earlier this year, Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates of 30 percent were recorded in Mayom county. One out of every three children was found to be acutely malnourished, with a high prevalence of stunting in children under the age of two.

“When I started work in February this year many people were in need of nutrition services,” says Peter Marum, a Community Nutrition Worker at CARE’s Nutrition Centre in Mankien.

Due to the crisis, people were not cultivating. It was the least of their priorities – they had to look out for their safety first.

Although Mayom county is more peaceful than it was in 2014, the effects of the fighting that tore through this part of South Sudan remain. And in addition to the local population, Mayom county is currently home to around 30,000 internally displaced people, mainly women, children and the elderly fleeing ongoing violence in southern Unity state.

9 out of 10 displaced people struggle to survive

More than two million people have been forced to flee their homes since fighting broke out in South Sudan in December 2013. While many have sought refuge in Protection of Civilian sites at UN bases, nine out of 10 of these internally displaced people – people who have been forced to flee from their own homes – are sheltering in towns and villages such as Mankien. These communities, many of them cut off by distance, poor infrastructure, seasonal rains or conflict, remain chronically under-served.

CARE’s nutrition centre in Mankien is housed in the Primary Health Care Centre in the middle of town. The line of patients waiting for screening on the verandah outside is long. Many travel from as far as 10km away, usually by foot, to use its services. Patients are screened for malnutrition, and those showing signs are given nutrition supplements and monitored for progress.

“We’re screening both children and adults here,” says Peter Marum. 

We see many lactating mothers with malnutrition, meaning they simply do not have enough breast milk to feed their babies.

CARE is the only organisation delivering nutrition services in this part of South Sudan, operating centres in Abiemnom, Rubkona and Pariang counties, as well as eight locations in Mayom. Operations in Guit county have been suspended because of ongoing insecurity.

Resources are stretched, and the needs are great

“The role of agencies like CARE is more critical now than ever before,” said Joel Makii, Nutrition Advisor with CARE.

We’ve done everything we can to increase our nutrition programmes in Unity state, but without more resources and without access to those populations that need it the most, many more South Sudanese will suffer.

By Robinah Baseka, Advocacy and Communications Officer, CARE South Sudan

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