Over the past 15 years I’ve worked with UNICEF in some of the world’s biggest emergencies. But the spiralling famine in South Sudan is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
It’s hard to overstate just how devastated this country is. Brutal conflict, extreme weather and economic crisis have ripped through South Sudan. As ever, kids are suffering most.
Famine has been declared in one state, Unity State, but other places in the country will be just a step away if we don’t dramatically scale up our response.
Famine is not a term that UNICEF takes lightly and it’s not every day that it is announced. When it is, it means that people are already dying of hunger. This is a man-made catastrophe that has left 100,000 people facing starvation in parts of South Sudan, including 20,000 children.
"These are all crazy numbers but each wears the face of a person trying to make a go of it."
I cannot overstate the incredible strength and fortitude shown by everyday South Sudanese in horrendous circumstances. Indeed, far from being victims, the people of South Sudan have done absolutely everything to avoid catastrophe, and to protect their children. But they have exhausted their options. And they need help in navigating this hellish crisis.
We’ve seen homes burnt to the ground and families fleeing over hundreds of kilometres just for clean water, food and safety. Children have no choice but to eat ‘famine foods’ like grass and water lilies to try and survive. There is barely a village I have visited where someone does not have a ghastly story to tell; one of violence, often rape, losing their home, escaping, and a relentless fight for survival.
The people of South Sudan are heavily reliant upon two things: their own incredible instinct for survival, and UNICEF. So whether it is the water we provide around the country, the hundreds of thousands we reach with nutrition or the millions we are targeting for a classroom, UNICEF’s presence means life and a ray of hope.
Despite catastrophe, there is hope
I grew up in a country that oozed opportunity. Australia taught me that everyone deserves a fair chance; and then my experience with UNICEF and the children we serve showed me that when people are given an opportunity – be it education, decent health care, protection – they tend to do amazing things.
There are three reasons I think Australians should put their trust in UNICEF in South Sudan.
First, because we have incredibly brave and committed staff in the country. They live in often awful conditions (and certainly dangerous ones) but do so because they see the impact their work makes.
Second, because beyond being brave, our staff are trained and damn good at what they do.
And third, because with funds from everyday Australians, we directly reach kids and their mothers
"I have no interest in band aid solutions, so I’ve committed a lot to UNICEF because I have seen the genuine, long-term difference the organisation can make."
I have been on the missions where we drop staff in areas cut off by fighting and then we are literally going hand to mouth – with high energy nutrition food, water, you name it …always saving lives. I can’t think of an organisation that has a mix of access, political reach and breadth of work, as UNICEF.
Just $13 from a supporter in Australia can mean a week’s worth of emergency therapeutic food for a child in South Sudan in critical need. Every dollar counts. Believe me, I have seen the results; the efforts of UNICEF staff in the world’s most dangerous country for an aid worker, and the faces of children when they are given emergency nourishment.
I’ve never seen anything like this
I’ve worked in crises in Somalia, Libya, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Darfur and so on. This crisis feels different for two reasons: first, because the world’s newest country is full of young people who are desperate to see it succeed, but who equally desperately need support. And second, because we now have a famine and are at a tipping point. Act now - save lives; delay, and these courageous people in South Sudan are staring into an abyss.
I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing a child die in her mother’s arms. It’s gut wrenching, and immediately makes me want to hug one of my own kids. But at the same time, I will never tire of watching life return to a child once we reach them with our emergency nutrition; or when a girl goes to school for the first time.
So I am a glass half-full type of person. I am well aware of some of the horrors out there, but I am also constantly inspired by what everyday people do to survive and succeed.
Australians have a proud record of helping those who simply need a leg up. And I think this is one of those moments when that proud record can bring immense results for those who are doing it so very tough.
It’s not too late to avert this catastrophe. Act now.
1.4 million children are severely malnourished and at imminent risk of death but passionate UNICEF staff are working around the clock to save as many lives as we can, as fast as we can. Please join the generous Australians delivering life-saving aid to people just like us in South Sudan.
UNICEF teams are treating severely malnourished children with therapeutic food - a peanut paste specially formulated with the micronutrients children need to survive and grow. We’re supporting mobile health clinics to reach children in remote communities with life-saving medical care and immunisations. We’re providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to stop the spread of disease.
Time is running out. Children and families need our help now. Help us reach further, faster and save a child’s life. Please give generously.
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