It’s Wednesday morning at Juba airport in South Sudan and the weight limit on the MAF Cessna Caravan is maxed-out with only one ‘passenger’.
White and orange boxes pack the pods underneath the plane as well as a few layers high inside. These boxes are filled with small packets of nutritional gold. It’s called Plumpy Sup, one of a few variations of a peanut-based supplement that has worked miracles on malnourished babies and small children.
Tearfund ran out of it in Uror County back in January and had been trying to get more there, with financial and political issues making that desire difficult.
Finally, with the intense rainy season looming, the time had come that they could book MAF to fly two planeloads into Motot, a remote village about 1 1/2 hours north of Juba. The boxes are so heavy that the plane looks near enough empty, even though it is heavily laden.
Pilots Andrew Parker and Ryan Unger land the plane on the 750-metre dirt airstrip, which is thankfully dry at the moment. They unload the 55 boxes with the help of Tearfund staff and take off to go and get the next 55. Each flight carries approximately 900kg of Plumpy Sup.
- Date: 21 May 2014
- Plane: Cessna 208B Grand Caravan "MAF 4"
- Route: Juba-Moto-Juba-Moto-Juba
- Cargo: 1,844kg of nutritional supplement
- Pilots: Andrew Parker and Ryan Unger
'Tearfund is the only nutrition provider in the county,' Claudia Puschner, the organisation’s South Sudan programme officer, explains.
'In our current response we are targeting 38,429 pregnant and lactating women and children under five suffering from moderate or severe malnutrition. The supplies we transport are mainly Plumpy'nut and therapeutic feeding supplies. These programmes are possible due to the generous support of MAF.'
There are six feeding centres spread out around Uror County, each one open for one day a week.
On this day, Wednesday, it’s in Pulchoul, a 30-minute drive from Motot where the airstrip and Tearfund office is located. All Tearfund’s cars were stolen during the December crisis when violence erupted around the country. They are now renting vehicles to get around until their own vehicles can be replaced.
Tearfund’s area programme manager Victor Nthiga sits in the back seat of a borrowed truck on the way to the Pulchoul feeding centre. 'For some months now we’ve been struggling to get supplies, so having these coming in is really a big thing for Tearfund,' Victor explains. 'In most of the centres we’ve been turning away some of the women and children so it’s really a celebration today.'
At 11.30am, the Pulchoul feeding centre is filled with women and children. Many have already come and gone. A large tree in the middle of the compound provides shade and a branch to hang a scale from. A crowd of mothers gather around Tearfund’s nutrition supervisor Manyuon, waiting to have their babies weighed.
One baby breaks into terrified screaming as he is placed naked into the dark blue sling. The next baby sits placidly. One mother has twins. A few metres away, babies are measured in a wooden contraption while their mothers hold the wailing children down.
Across the courtyard, other workers measure tiny arms and write on crumpled, dirt-smeared health cards, indicating how many food packets each baby will receive for the week. Mothers line up at the final station to collect their ration.
Large woven baskets are scattered across the dirt ground. All the mothers bring their babies to the centre in a duony, a traditional long basket carried on their head. Most have walked for over an hour to get to the clinic.
Nyadieng Ruth carried her two-year-old on her head for 90 minutes. When she first brought baby Nyayuni to the centre two months ago, she was suffering from severe diarrhea, pain in her ears and was malnourished. Nyadieng is still worried, but says the child is responding to the Plumpy Nut food and is getting better.
Chul Malual’s child, Muot, has improved dramatically in the month that she has been bringing him to the centre. He was two-years-old when she first brought him in, weighing 6.7kg. One month later, he is up to 9.3kg and eating the Plumpy Nut packets without help.
Chul’s husband died four years ago, leaving her alone to care for four children. She owns some cattle and goats, but the food from her garden is now finished and she plans to sell some livestock for money to buy food, however she says there is little to purchase in the markets.
Tearfund staff was forced to evacuate following the December 2013 outbreak of violence and returned in April to a warm welcome from the local people. Program Officer Claudi Puschner came in with the team.
“What struck and shocked me most,” Claudia observed, “were the thin legs and arms of all, but mainly the children. When I was here last in November 2013, already a worrisome 17% of the population suffered from malnutrition. Since then the people of Uror have accommodated thousands of displaced people, sharing with them all their resources: food, water and accommodation, depleting the little savings they had much faster.
'When speaking to Tearfund’s nutrition advisor George Kirimi, he alerted me to the fact the January figures of children with malnutrition treated at our feeding centres are already more than double the figures of January 2012 and with many people missing the annual planting season - as they either have no seeds to plant or are too weak to cultivate land - George predicts a rapid deterioration of the situation in Uror.'
About one-third of the county’s children are malnourished and the number has increased to emergency levels due to the December conflict.
The situation has resulted in displacement, destroyed markets, disrupted livelihoods and the prospect of a missed planting season. The UN and other international organisations are predicting a severe famine.
George Kirimi said, 'Unfortunately, children and pregnant and breast feeding women are the first to feel the brunt of this. As a result, children won’t have optimum growth and development.'
In Uror County, Tearfund’s programmes have responded to the crisis, both man-made and natural, including the on-going tribal conflicts and severe flooding the area is prone toward. Tearfund programmes include water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition and distributing everyday essentials