Famine looming over the people of South Sudan

In the field, Emergencies, Blogs article written on the 19 Aug 2014

Elizabeth and her five children live in a shared tent with 20 other people in ‘Zone 0’ in Mingkkaman. Her husband was killed when he went back to their home in Bor to fetch supplies. Since his death, their home has since been burned down. Now, Elizabeth is worried about what will become of her and her children. 

“I’m originally from Bor but I’ve been here for five months now. We had to run away from our home because of fighting in our town. We ran away across the Nile. The rebels were chasing us so we had to hide in the swamp for five days. It was a terrifying time.” said Elizabeth, 35.

“I was heavily pregnant and it was very difficult hiding in the swamp. We could barely sleep and we had nothing to eat or drink. I think the worry made me give birth to our baby. My contractions started that first night at about 8pm. There was no antenatal care in the swamp so my husband acted as the midwife. He was beside me the whole time and was very worried. I think he was afraid that something might happen to the baby or me. But it was an easy birth and I delivered our son before the morning. Everything was fine. Our baby was healthy and we called him Swampy to remember that night.

Since that day life has become terrible for us. We have to beg for food as we can’t survive on food rations. We sleep in a tent with five other families, probably about twenty people altogether.

“A week after we arrived in Mingkaman my husband decided to go back to our home in Bor to collect some of our things. I wish he hadn’t gone though because when he was in the house collecting our clothes and some food he was shot and he died.

“Since that day life has become terrible for us. We have to beg for food as we can’t survive on food rations. We sleep in a tent with five other families, probably about twenty people altogether.

“We have no privacy, no mattresses. Just imagine what it’s like with twenty people in one tent. There’s no ventilation and it becomes so hot. My children have no clothes, I try to make them some with bits of cloth and I beg people walking down the street to help me.”

“One of the biggest problems for us was that my husband didn’t have much family so when he died, we didn’t have a support network to help us through. I am totally alone trying to care for our children.”

“When we do have food there’s nothing to put in it — we’ve eaten the same thing everyday for months. We only eat one meal a day. One of the biggest challenges is that we don’t have enough food and it makes the children sick. When the children are sick or hungry they cry out to me and throw themselves on the ground.”

“When you’re breastfeeding and you are hungry you feel like you might collapse. My heart beats really fast and when I get up my eyes can’t see, the room spins around me.

“Yesterday we were lucky, one of the women we are living with begged a fisherman for fish and she shared it with us all. She also shared some juice which was really nice as I hadn’t eaten anything but grain for months. I hadn’t had fish for many months and couldn’t remember the taste.”

There are now 4.9 million people like Elizabeth and her family in urgent need of humanitarian assistance — including 200,000 children suffering severe acute malnutrition. Oxfam is on the ground delivering essential aid, but aid agencies are warning of a severe food crisis in the coming months.

Famine could soon become a reality for the people of South Sudan — a devastating prediction that could cost countless lives.