Facing insecurity, displacement, malnutrition, floods – children in South Sudan are threatened at every turn.
A girl holds her baby sister while waiting to collect food rations, in the town of Mingkaman. They, along with far too many of their peers, were uprooted by resurgent conflict that erupted in South Sudan in mid-December 2013.
When their photograph was taken, in late March 2014, they were among 708,900 people who had been displaced internally – a number that has since grown to 1.1 million. Of those displaced, 588,222 are estimated to be children under the age of 18. Some 434,000 South Sudanese have also fled to neighbouring countries in a desperate search for safety.
The dual threats of conflict and displacement are creating and compounding additional risks to children’s well-being. Violence has, for example, disrupted cycles of agricultural production and sales – which are not only avenues of food production and procurement, but also critical sources of livelihoods.
The Executive Directors of UNICEF and the World Food Programme recently warned of a looming famine in South Sudan. Already some 3.9 million people are at risk of not having enough food. By the end of the year, nearly 1 million children under age 5 will require treatment for acute malnutrition, and UNICEF estimates that malnutrition could claim the lives of 50,000 children if more is not done, quickly, to reverse the nutrition crisis.
In areas like Bentiu, the rainy season and resulting floods have begun, bringing with them an increased threat of disease for people living in overcrowded displacement sites.
“The thing that strikes me is the hopelessness,” said photographer Kate Holt in an interview about the trip to South Sudan in which she took the above image. Five months later, UNICEF, together with partners, continues its work to reach the country’s children with life-saving aid – and, hopefully, one day, thoughts of a brighter future.