Photo of the Week: surviving on wild grass

In this week’s photograph by Mike Pflanz taken in South Sudan in August 2014, Nyabel Wal holds a bowl filled with small-leaved succulent plants known in the local Nuer language as ‘wool’, which grow wild close to the ground all around the town of Kiech Kon, where she lives in Upper Nile State. Ms. Wal recently travelled for six days to look for food, only to come back empty-handed. The plant is the only food she has to feed her family of five. Her young son, Goaner Pal, is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

“Since January, we have been living without food, except for the wild grass,” she says. “Sometime back, I went to Mathiang town to look for food and left the baby behind. When I came back, the baby refused to breastfeed, refused food and became sick.”

Her 12-year-old nephew, Ruon Gatluak, has grown tired of eating the same food: “We are eating grass because there is no food. If there was food, we would not eat this.”

UNICEF, the World Food Programme and NGO partners have deployed a rapid response mission (RRM) to Kiech Kon. The RRM aims to cover immediate needs in child protection, education, food assistance, nutrition and water and sanitation for persons displaced by conflict, in addition to coordinating longer-term response to meet the needs of people in remote locations.

In late August 2014 in South Sudan, 1.3 million people have been displaced since resurgent conflict erupted in mid-December 2013. An estimated 695,172 of the displaced are children. Some 442,600 people have also sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The conflict has also worsened the nutrition situation in South Sudan.

Nearly 1 million children under age 5 will require treatment for acute malnutrition in 2014, and 50,000 children are at risk of death from malnutrition by the end of the year, if efforts to save them are not accelerated. UNICEF has appealed for US$151.7 million to cover emergency responses across the vital areas of nutrition; health; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); protection; education; multi-sector refugee response; and cholera response.

Christine Nesbitt is UNICEF’s Senior Photography Editor

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