After years of battling drought and civil and tribal wars, Sudan, the largest country on the African continent, is experiencing looming famine.
An entire population is teetering on the verge of severe starvation, and the children are the ones who are mostly affected: Little ones with eyes that are sunken in, reed-thin legs barely able to support them, exposed ribs, distended bellies, skin barely clinging to their bones, and gazes that are lifeless are just biding their time, waiting to die.
The number of people in southern Sudan who are in dire need of food assistance has more than quadrupled, from 1 million in 2009 to 4.3 million this year, according to the U.N. Thus far, charitable organizations have fed an estimated 80,000 people, but experts are theorizing that the worst is yet to come because the harvest is not expected until fall, and that is dependent on whether the rains come at all. Even if the rains come, though, there are no seeds for the people to plant and grow their food.
Humanitarian efforts by such groups as Save the Children and Medair have actually searched for the hungriest children in communities throughout the devastated land and placed them in therapeutic-feeding programs, where diets with primarily fortified peanut butter were given to them to bring them back from the brink.
"We are only just entering the start of the hunger gap, so we would expect nutrition levels to worsen in the coming months," said Kate Foster, director of Program Development for Save the Children in Southern Sudan (SCiSS).
The straw huts and dusty community of Akobo has the highest rate of starvation. The village is part of an isolated region suffering from tribal warfare that has displaced almost 400,000 people. Akobo has also been the site of violent tribal conflicts for the past year in addition to suffering from lack of rain, insecurity in the area and five years of crop failures.
The skeletal bodies that slowly trail about the land are also a sad reminder of the civil wars that have lasted more than two decades, killing 2 million people and causing countless to be displaced. That conflict is separate from the war in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, which began in 2003 and has killed an estimated 300,000.
Unfortunately, government efforts are few and far between because of global financial decline.
Until there is a major global intervention to steer the region out of its current emergency state, many of the country's children will die. Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations like SCiSS, Medair and the World Food Programme will continue to distribute supplemental food rations for families in need, and International Medical Corps, which runs the county hospital, will stay-the-course in providing care for severely malnourished children.
"The need to act is so strong that we must take immediate action on behalf of these children," said Jeri Westad, country director for Medair. "It's not too late for us to make a major life-saving impact."
Stop the famine and death statistics from climbing, any little bit helps. For more information contact World Vision, www.worldvision.org; Children's Hunger Relief Fund, www.chrf.org/sudan.html; Medair, www.medair.org; Save the Children, www.savethechildren.org