Millions of people in South Sudan are on the brink of famine

Second from left, Major Kevin Williams is in South Sudan working with the United Nations.

Second from left, Major Kevin Williams is in South Sudan working with the United Nations.

Near the epicentre of famine in war-torn South Sudan is a Linton military man trying to make a difference to people's lives. Kirsty Lawrence caught up with Major Kevin Williams to talk about his work. 

After spending five months in South Sudan, Major Kevin Williams has endured all weather conditions. 

It was 40-degree heat when he arrived – singlet-wearing weather. 

A market stall in Malakal in South Sudan's Upper Nile state.

A market stall in Malakal in South Sudan's Upper Nile state.

Currently, he encounters torrential rain. A pair of gumboots are handy by his door, just in case he needs to head out in a hurry and discovers water pooling. 

The weather is difficult to manage for someone who is prepared, let alone those fleeing from their villages with nothing. 

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On a river patrol to Kodok town in South Sudan's Upper Nile state.

On a river patrol to Kodok town in South Sudan's Upper Nile state.

Williams is a long way from Linton Military Camp, near Palmerston North.

Based in South Sudan, he is working as a military liaison officer for the United Nations mission, helping deliver life-saving aid to areas in need.

This mission has become even more difficult by continued fighting and the rainy season, which will last until November.

"Famine had been declared in parts of South Sudan and this could spread across the country unless food and other vital supplies reach those in need," he says.

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For his family in New Zealand, winter deployments are easier to manage, so when the opportunity to go to South Sudan arose he put his hand up. 

South Sudan is the world's youngest nation, and three years of civil war, compounded by drought, has taken a toll. 

The UN estimates about 100,000 people are starving in the famine's epicentre in Unity state in the northern-central part of South Sudan, with another 5.5 million in other areas on the brink of famine, and more than 1 million children are acutely malnourished.

They appealed for urgent humanitarian assistance to stem the "escalating catastrophe". 

Williams forms part of a UN liaison team of 29 officers from 20 countries based in Malakal, in Upper Nile state, in the north-eastern part of South Sudan.

Malakal is the scene of some of the fiercest fighting since South Sudan plunged into civil war in December 2013 and is one of the regions hit by critical food shortages.

During a recent visit to Tonga, a town in the northern Upper Nile state,  Williams saw people surviving on fish and whatever wild herbs and leaves they could find. 

"People's livelihoods have been destroyed.

"They've got no money and have barely enough to eat."

This issue is heightened by people being on the move. 

"If they aren't in their own villages, they find it hard to have the tools for farming.

"But also, they find it hard finding the land where they can plant crops and know it's going to be there the next day." 

This means the need for aid is growing, but Williams says it can be difficult for them to get into these areas to deliver it. 

He says that when they got into Tonga, it was the first time UN representatives had made it into the village after clashes broke out over more than six months ago.

"Hopefully, humanitarian workers will be able to resume delivering aid now that we have shown that the area is safe to visit."

More than 2 million South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries since the civil war erupted, while more than 200,000 internally displaced people have sought refuge in the UN's six sites for protection of civilians across the country.

Williams recently escorted UN staff on an investigation outside the civilian site on the outskirts of Malakal, which is home to more than 30,000 people.

"The sites are crowded and sanitation conditions are poor. But they provide shelter and protection to thousands of [people] who may otherwise be caught in the crossfire or suffer from famine."

Williams has a month left of his six-month deployment.

 - Stuff


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