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Malnutrition Remains Serious Problem for South Sudanese Refugees

Malnutrition Remains Serious Problem for South Sudanese Refugees
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As the civil war in South Sudan rages on, more than 100,000 refugees have fled to camps in neighboring Uganda. The United Nations Children's Fund says $36 million is needed to meet these refugees' basic needs. Recently the European Commission donated $1 million, which to UNICEF is significant, but far from enough.

By now Akon Thiong knows how to prepare the nutritious Plumpy’Nut for her twin daughters. It’s a peanut-based product with extra nutrients for children who are severely malnourished.

A few months ago, the two babies were underfed and in dire condition. Luckily, there was help in the refugee camp where they were born and where their mother has been living since 2013.

For many other children at the Rhino Refugee Settlement in Uganda's Arua district, malnourishment remains a serious problem. The camp holds about 90,000 refugees. Relief workers like Joseph Mbabazi, say about 20 per cent of the children are malnourished.

“The biggest issue here is the high rate of acute or severe malnutrition, especially among children below 5 years. Basically with malnutrition it’s not very cosmological you can’t see it, you have to assess the child. But when you get to see it in a visible form, that means it’s in the severest form,” he said.

Nearly two million people have been displaced from their homes., since South Sudan's civil war began in late 2013. At the moment, 136,000 live in camps across Uganda -- more than two-thirds of them women and children.

Here at the refugee camp’s health center, children are continuously being screened for malnutrition.

This girl’s condition is unfortunately not satisfactory. She needs to stay on supplements and return in a week to see whether she has gained enough weight.

Apart from screening children, UNICEF and the aid group Concern Worldwide hold training sessions for mothers, teaching them how to detect malnutrition and hopefully, prevent it.

Akon Thiong said it’s here where she learned how to make a nutritious meal for her children.

“I was taught how to make porridge for my two young babies. And also how to make tomato juice for them. That is why the children are better now,” she said.

The European Commission recently donated one million euros for the camps -- an amount which is still far from the $36 million needed to meet the refugees' basic needs. Still, UNICEF's Gerry Dyer said the organization was thankful for the donation.

“We are feeling the pressure as the rest of the world is. Just look at what recently happened in Nepal. Unfortunately, an unfolding crisis in Burundi … we are definitely feeling the pressure. The nutrition programming is a very expensive program, but it's one of the most important. A child being able to have water, a child being able to have a full stomach, it's about the dignity of these people,” he said.

With no ending to the South Sudan conflict in sight, the pressure on these camps may go on for months or years to come.