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South Sudan: Millions are on the brink of starvation but bringing aid to them is a challenge

Rahel has been working for Malteser International in South Sudan since June 2018. Picture : Rahel Kuenzle/ Malteser International

More people are hungry in more places than ever before in South Sudan. Nearly 6 million people – more than half of the country’s population – are facing a severe food crisis and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. However, aid agencies are struggling to bring emergency food and other aid supplies to the people who need it most. Rahel Kuenzle is part of Malteser International’s emergency relief team in South Sudan. She tells us about a recent trip to the country’s northwestern district of Raga.

The brutal civil war in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives and driven nearly four million people from their homes, leaving behind ghost towns and fields untended. The resulting crop deficits, coupled with rising inflation have led to severe food shortages and unprecedented levels of hunger. Many aid organizations have to procure staple foods from neighboring Sudan and Uganda to save people from starving. “There is hardly any food left to buy,” says Rahel Kuenzle. “People in the villages we visited were eating mangoes and wild fruits which are not enough to cover their nutritional needs. Things are getting worse, but our major concern was gaining access to the people in need.”

Poor road networks and infrastructure


Hazardous road travel is just one of the challenges Malteser International and other aid organizations face during aid delivery. “The roads that lead to the villages in Raga district are very dilapidated,” Rahel continues. “This can be very dangerous for trucks transporting relief materials.”

The crippled infrastructure and poor road networks in South Sudan mean that remote villages are harder to reach, especially during the rainy season. “Our team was in Raga in June to distribute oil, beans, salt, sorghum, water canisters and soap,” recounts Rahel. “At the time, the security situation was calm and the security authorities had given us the green light to travel, but the rainy season had started. We knew this would make the journey more difficult, but we could not afford to delay the delivery any further.”

During the rainy season, the 400 kilometer journey from Malteser International’s office in Wau to Raga can take longer than usual. “The flooded roads are hardly navigable,” Rahel says. “To make matters worse, one of our five trucks got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out manually.” She and her team spent two days on the road before reaching the villages in Raga.

Malteser International has delivered food and hygiene articles to villages in Raga, South Sudan. Picture : Rahel Kuenzle/ Malteser International

Access for humanitarian aid is vital to save lives


While these challenges may have affected the delivery schedule, Rahel and the team were happy to have reached their destination. “When we arrived in the first village, the people were visibly relieved that help had come and it was a joy to see the happiness on their faces,” she tells us. “I saw a little boy carefully picking up individual pieces of grain that had fallen to the ground. That was a moment I will never forget,” she adds. “At the end, it was worthwhile!”

Many remote areas in South Sudan are now home to thousands of displaced persons who have sought refuge there. Where the newly displaced have arrived, residents are generously offering what little they have. But this is not enough. The hunger crisis is affecting them all.

Malteser International is on the ground in South Sudan, delivering lifesaving assistance to many vulnerable people including thousands who have fled the brutal conflict to remote areas. We are providing food supplies, safe water and sanitation as well as agricultural support to help families in the long term.

South Sudan is in the midst of a worsening humanitarian crisis. Our unwavering staff is doing its best to save the lives of people caught in the grip of hunger. You too can help prevent a catastrophe.


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