Ajiep, South Sudan: 120 people dying from starvation every day

Nairobi - 120 people are dying daily due to starvation in Ajiep, Bahr el Ghazal, Southern Sudan, a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) nutritional and mortality survey reports. In the ten days up to 20 July, the mortality rate had increased four-fold, reaching over 69 deaths per 10,000 people per day for the population and 133 deaths per 10,000 per day for children under the age of five years. According to international standards of humanitarian aid, 2/10,000 deaths per day is considered an emergency. The survey also shows a global malnutrition rate of 55.7 per cent, and a severe malnutrition rate of 36.3 per cent for an estimated population of 17,500.

"The situation in Ajiep is catastrophic - this pocket of famine in Bahr el Ghazal, could be an indicator for the trend in other areas in South Sudan," said Sophie Baquet, MSF nutritionist, who took part in the survey. "People are walking for up to three days to Ajiep in search of food and arrive in a terrible state, often dying on arrival. The displaced people coming in droves daily to Ajiep, come with very little, possibly a few pots and pans but nothing else. The rains can make the nights very cold and the weak and hungry are sleeping under the trees with no shelter."

As of 19 July 1998, MSF registered a total of 9,972 children under the age of five years in the seven supplementary feeding centres, and 459 children in the five therapeutic feeding centres in Bahr el Ghazal. In the last two weeks, MSF has seen a 16 per cent increase in the number of children in the supplementary feeding centres, with a total of 2,323 in Ajiep alone. MSF is in the process of expanding the programme in Ajiep and other locations and is also planning to increase the number of centres to try to respond to the worsening situation in Bahr el Ghazal. It is clear that supplementary food distribution has no real impact on the population if it does not go hand in hand with sufficient general food distribution.

The nutritional and mortality survey clearly illustrates that in spite of the efforts being made to increase the general food distribution, there is not sufficient food reaching the most vulnerable population. The situation is likely to deteriorate in the coming months, given late rains, the resulting poor harvest and the continued conflict. Additionally, all humanitarian organisations operating in Southern Sudan are still facing constraints in logistics, capacity and access.

Humanitarian relief will never solve the fundamental problem. The current ceasefire is a small step in the right direction, but without a long-term political settlement, thousands of Sudanese people will continue to die.