BUNJ, South Sudan (October 22, 2012) — You can hear the heavy rains outside the hospital in Bunj, in Maban County, South Sudan. Inside, Dr. Evan Atar treats 2-year-old Mustapha for severe malnutrition.
“There is no food. I go to buy the food and there is only lentil,” says Mustapha’s father Abdulah Abdulah.
Malnutrition is a serious challenge in Maban County, which is home to over 100,000 refugees from the Sudan. Continued conflict and increased food insecurity in the Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states have led to an influx of refugees into South Sudan.
Most refugees travel on foot, many for several months. They cross dangerous conflict zones along back roads that are barely passable from flooding. Along the way, hunger and disease are constant threats, particularly to the most vulnerable refugees—children.
Radwan, 12, recalls, “It took me and my sisters five days to walk to the South Sudanese border, a journey made all the more difficult because we had no footwear.”
Seasonal rains have begun falling across the area, increasing the transmission of disease. Acute diarrhea has triggered a spike in child mortality and an increase in cases of malaria.
With the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as lead agency, UNICEF and partners are supporting a variety of interventions involving nutrition and health, child protection and education.
At Bunj hospital, the clinic provides emergency treatment for severely malnourished children from both the refugee and host communities.
“We've been providing basic healthcare services and basic vaccination such as measles, oral polio drops and tetanus,” says Chandra Gilmore, from UNICEF partner the International Medical Corps (IMC). Each day, the IMC vaccinates about 350 children and women of childbearing age at the entry point to Gendrasa camp.
Psychosocial support is also a key component for these children, who have had traumatic experiences. Marte Ricci from non-profit humanitarian aid organization INTERSOS discusses Child Friendly Spaces where children play and learn: “UNICEF is providing us with recreational material and school materials to cover 2,000 children in this space. These Child Friendly Spaces allow children to forget their past, make friends and also get new knowledge.”
UNICEF supplies education materials in order to support education in Maban. Khalda Hasan, a teacher in Black School in the Batil refugee camp, says that the children are eager to learn.
According to Radwan, “School is the best thing about being here. Education is even more important than shoes. I would rather be in class with bare feet than have shoes."
Although partners have stepped up the emergency response, the high rate of arrivals, including the sheer volume of vulnerable children, has put a tremendous strain on overall operations.
“Children fleeing the violence in Sudan have faced immense stress, and we are seeing the consequences of it. We have to make sure that children have access to healthcare, education and a protective environment, so that we can enable them to not just survive but thrive in a situation that is so challenging. And for that, increased support and funding is essential,” says UNICEF South Sudan Representative Yasmin Ali Haque.