JUBA - Despite intense insecurity in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) have managed to get urgently needed food and nutrition assistance to tens of thousands of people who had been cut off from relief agencies for months.
WFP and UNICEF have deployed a mobile emergency relief team to assist more than 27,000 people in Wau Shilluk, on the west bank of the Nile River, across from the state capital of Malakal. It was the first time the agencies have been able to reach people in Wau Shilluk since March. The team finished the final food distributions on Monday.
In the past several months, access problems and concerns for staff safety have prevented humanitarian agencies from reaching people living in Wau Shilluk and other areas of rural Upper Nile. Many agencies have been forced to scale down their operations on the west bank of the Nile because of insecurity.
“With little or no services available, children are going without nourishing food and healthcare in these villages,” said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. “It is a desperate situation,” he added during a visit to Wau Shilluk.
Tens of thousands of people have fled remote areas in recent months to reach the Malakal United Nations Protection of Civilians (POC) site, seeking not just safety but humanitarian assistance.
“Our mobile teams provide a critical lifeline into conflict-affected areas,” said Hakan Falkell, the WFP Deputy Country Director in South Sudan. “Most internally displaced people have found refuge among host communities, and it is essential to reach them where they are so they are not exposed to further danger during the journey to access lifesaving assistance.”
In Wau Shilluk, WFP provided food assistance to more than 20,000 people. UNICEF screened more than 3,000 children under the age of 5 for malnutrition, vaccinated more than 8,000 children under the age of 15 against measles, and vaccinated more than 7,800 against polio. More than 400 pregnant women were vaccinated against tetanus.
Since WFP and UNICEF, with NGO partners, began deploying the joint teams known as Rapid Response Missions more than a year ago, the teams have reached more than 1.3 million people, including 220,000 children under the age of 5, in the most hard-to-reach areas of the country.
However, it is imperative that the parties to the conflict cease hostilities and give aid agencies more consistent access to people in need in these remote areas.
"We could see that people are struggling; there were only some fish and a few tomatoes for sale in the market, and almost nobody had the means to buy them,” said Valerie Guarnieri, the WFP Regional Director for East and Central Africa during a visit to Wau Shilluk. “We need a stronger presence by humanitarian organizations in places like Wau Shilluk to provide immediate food and nutrition support and to reopen schools, ensure health services and support agricultural production."
Fear of violence along with the absence of assistance in places like Wau Shilluk have triggered a mass influx into the Malakal POC site. This month alone nearly 11,000 people have arrived. Three-quarters of the new arrivals are children. The site’s population is likely to hit 50,000 within days, but was designed to accommodate just 18,000 people.
“At this rate of expansion, the situation inside Malakal POC will get out of control, and we won’t be able to provide sufficient services and resources to children who have been through hell to get to a place of safety,” said Veitch.
Since fighting broke out in December 2013, more than two million people have been uprooted from their homes, and 4.6 million people face severe food insecurity.
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