Aid worker Kayi Joseph: ‘Four million children in South Sudan are malnourished’

A rapidly escalating hunger crisis threatens a large part of the population in the world’s youngest country, where more than half of the population is now in acute food insecurity. Four million children are malnourished. They consume too few meals in a day or do not get the necessary nutrients with their food.

“Internal conflicts and flooding have displaced around two million South Sudanese,” said Kayi Joseph, a South Sudanese employee of the aid organization Save the Children, at the organization’s office in The Hague. He visits the Netherlands for appointments with partner organisations. “South Sudan is a country where people mainly grow their own food. The fields are now abandoned or under water,” he says. “Growing food is not possible.”


Food insecurity is a growing problem. In September, aid organizations warned in a joint letter that someone in the world dies of hunger every four seconds. Joseph has watched his country decline for years. Due to malnutrition, children remain smaller than their peers in other countries and develop all kinds of diseases.

The aid worker knows what it’s like to be on the run: He himself spent some time in a refugee camp. He decided to dedicate himself with his work to the most vulnerable in his country. “Children have no choice, they do not participate in conflicts. They are just victims,” he says.

Joseph cannot give one decisive reason for the food problem in his country. “Disasters follow one another, so food insecurity has now reached its lowest level,” he says. South Sudan has been ravaged by floods since 2019, and there is social and political unrest in the country. Starvation is being used as a weapon of war by the South Sudanese military, allied militias and opposition forces, according to a report published on Thursday. As a result, more and more people are on the run, exacerbating Africa’s biggest refugee crisis.

In 2022, the EU has set aside 85.3 million euros for humanitarian aid in South Sudan. But conflicts in the rest of the world mean that aid money has to be distributed to more countries, and there is less money for South Sudan, while the problems increase. Joseph does not accuse the West of favoring Ukraine, but warns that countries like South Sudan should not be forgotten. “Countries gave South Sudan aid for a long time, it would be a waste of effort if all that aid was in vain,” says the aid worker.

Terrible situation

He talks about a shocking situation for a refugee family that he met during one of his project visits. His voice softens noticeably and he no longer makes eye contact. “Going back to the moment is hard,” he begins.

The mother fled the violence in the region with three young children. The oldest child was already dead. The father had stayed behind to fight.

With her three children, the mother managed to reach a safe place. But later she had to flee again due to floods. Then she reached the place where she met them Joseph. “As aid workers, we first investigate whether children are malnourished. That was true for two of the children. One of them also contracted pneumonia from the floods, and unfortunately died before being transferred to the emergency hospital,” he says in a monotone voice.

“It was terrible,” he continues. “You can’t imagine what it’s like as a mother to lose two children in a short time. Not much later she also heard that her husband had died in the battle,” he says. “Almost an entire family is gone.”

With Save the Children predicting that the situation in South Sudan will worsen during the worst global hunger crisis of this century, Joseph continues to raise the alarm about the need for an international response. “The population has now need help.”

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