South Sudan—Racing against the rain

It is heartbreaking to see the devastation wrought on the people of South Sudan since the sudden outbreak of fighting there two months ago. More than 850,000 South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes; family members have been killed and injured, homes and livelihoods lost. More than 150,000 have left the country altogether.

Children who should be going to school have been orphaned, lost, attacked and recruited into armed forces. Even those who are still with their families have seen things they should not be seeing, experienced violence they should not witness. Hundreds of thousands of children are displaced, living in the open, facing disease and malnutrition, with no place to go where they feel safe, and no school to give them a sense of normality.

And as if that were not enough, the rainy season will begin in around six weeks. Under the best of circumstances, the rains bring much flooding to South Sudan, but with over 700,000 people displaced within the country, many of them camping in areas that will soon be under water, we are in a race against time to prevent a catastrophe.

We are accessing children and their families with water and sanitation and making provisions so that bore holes and latrines will be elevated for when the floods come. We are reaching children with health and nutrition services, vaccinating them against diseases such as measles that quickly prove deadly in such circumstances; we are providing safe places for children to learn and play, and re-uniting children separated from their families.

A health worker prepares to vaccinate a boy against measles, outside Bor, the capital of Jonglei State.
A health worker prepares to vaccinate a boy against measles, outside Bor, the capital of Jonglei State.
26 January 2014.

We are working against the clock to reach more of the families who need our help, and we need to have supplies in place before the rainy season starts and roads become impassable.

In order to do this, we need funds. We need 75 million dollars for our work in South Sudan and so far we are only 15% funded. We cannot do it without these resources.

I can assure you that UNICEF will do its part. The UNICEF staff working on the front lines in South Sudan are heroes – and I do not use that word lightly. They are working night and day, and often in the face of grave danger in places such as Malakal, Bentiu and Bor. In Malakal, as control of the town was wrested between the Government and anti-Government forces, our staff left the security of the UN base to go into town to get life-saving supplies from our warehouses, even as the warehouses were being looted.

There are options for South Sudan. Humanitarian actors have come together impressively to provide urgent assistance to the people who need it most. With the help of our donors, UNICEF and our partners can avert greater tragedy when the rainy season comes. And in the longer term, I raised the need to move towards reconciliation with the political and civil society leaders I met during my visit. They owe their people a peaceful resolution.

 Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes, visited South Sudan recently and writes about the urgency of funding preparations for the rainy season.

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