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Save a life: Millions face starvation. Now, more than ever, your support matters.

Save a life: Now, more than ever, your support matters.

In famine-stricken South Sudan, mothers go to great lengths to protect their children

By Divya Amladi
In search of safety, food, and clean water, these women and their children walked 5-6 days before arriving in a small host community in Panyijar County, South Sudan. This small community is the entry point to Nyal, the mainland, from the swamps. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Mothers forced to leave their homes and husbands to ensure the survival of their children.

In late February, famine was declared in parts of South Sudan. Years of conflict have left more than 5 million people—40 percent of the population—in need of urgent food assistance, with an estimated 100,000 already facing famine.

Oxfam and others are working around the clock to bring aid and relief to the people of South Sudan. We are distributing food to over 415,000 people as well as providing over 140,000 people with clean water and sanitation to keep people healthy and famine at bay.

Mothers have been hit particularly hard as they have had to venture forth in search food, medicine, and other essentials for their children while their husbands protect their households from becoming casualties of conflict.

Photo: Corrie Sissons/Oxfam

Most women make the journey from the swamps on their own while their husbands stay behind to protect their homes. They are surviving primarily by eating the bulbs from water lilies and occasionally fish from the swamp. The water lily bulbs must be collected, peeled, and ground into a paste before consumption. It is a time-intensive process.  

Photo: Dorothy Sang/Oxfam

The local community shares their water lily paste with children who have arrived in Panyijar from Mayendit. 

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Fleeing recent attacks, Nyandiew (right) and Nyachak (far left) ferried their children to safety via canoe. They had to leave their husbands behind and now they cannot go home. They also worry that if they go to the mainland, they may not receive food from the World Health Programme, which they need to survive.

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Nyabor’s daughter Rebecca is running a high fever and vomiting through the night. It took her an hour to walk to the nearest hospital and when she arrived, she was given metrotridazole, a medication to treat stomach upsets. It is not what her daughter needs, but nothing else is in supply. 

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

George sits on his mother’s lap as health personnel take his measurements to determine his nutrition level. There are 208 malnutrition cases of both severe acute malnutirition and moderate acute malnutrition in this hospital, according to the nutritionist. 

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Tabitha is resting with her daughter, who is sucking on “tuok’’ (a dry seed from a palm tree). “I was here before as an IDP [internally displaced person] and returned home in late 2016,” she says. “It is so unfortunate that the conflict resurfaced again. I do not think I will go back again until I am sure all is well again. Most of our animals died on the way. We feed on water lilies, fish, and anything we could find in the river. What we currently need is food, medication and NFIs [non-food items] shall be of great assistance to us. The more time it takes the worse it shall be for us.”

Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect the individuals.


The people of South Sudan are doing all they can to help themselves. We need to get more food, clean water, and other vital support to the most vulnerable people.

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