MSF warns urgent efforts needed to avert disaster in south Sudan

Nairobi - The international medical organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), reported a six-fold rise over the last twelve weeks of numbers of children in six supplementary feeding centres in Bahr el Ghazal. MSF warned that the nutritional situation in Bahr el Ghazal, where they work, is seriously deteriorating. During the week of 22 March 1998, a total of 808 children were registered in 6 centres in Bahr el Ghazal. By 31 May, the total number of children had increased to 5037. In Leer Town, Western Upper Nile, 259 children were admitted in the first days of the feeding centre, 128 of whom were severely malnourished. Since 31 May, 174 children with less than 60 percent of their body weight for height have been registered in the intensive feeding centres in Bahr el Ghazal. During the last two weeks in Ajiep, 9 of the 1459 children died in supplementary and 7 of the 63 children died in the intensive feeding centre. "There is a serious deterioration in the nutritional status of the vulnerable population of Southern Sudan - supplementary and therapeutic food for the severely malnourished must go hand in hand with enough general food distribution to enable entire families to survive. Otherwise, the supplementary food is shared between the families and the vulnerable continue to suffer," said Marc Hermant, MSF Head of Mission. "Over half of the children attending our feeding centres are not improving because the distribution of food to the general population is inadequate. If sufficient food is not distributed quickly and widely, the population will face a disaster - we need to avert further crisis." MSF, as part of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), is concerned that the current capacity of OLS is not sufficient to meet the needs of the 930,000 vulnerable South Sudanese. OLS is an important structure which allows negotiated access to a larger population and support for the UN and non-governmental agencies operating in South Sudan. Without a significant increase in capacity coupled with an increased daily ration of food, there is a risk that little impact will be made on the current catastrophe in Southern Sudan. MSF appeals to the concerned governments of the international community to act now. OLS urgently needs extensive logistical support to help meet the daily needs of the suffering population of South Sudan. Areas such as Bahr el Ghazal and Western Upper Nile have already suffered two consecutive poor harvests and continue to face conflict hence increased displacement. The time frame for seed planting has been extended, due to late rains. Reports from the field suggest that in certain regions, poor food stocks have put stress on the traditional coping mechanisms, which usually help the population survive the yearly hunger gap. It is crucial that sufficient food is distributed to sustain families in the period up to and beyond the next harvest and seeds and tools must also be in place before the onset of heavy rains.