It's the newest country in the world, but South Sudan also bears the title of being one of -- if not the -- worst places in the world to be a child. Three years of war have not only killed or maimed countless children, but have forced millions from their homes, disrupted their education, and starved them of badly needed food and basic health care.
Right now, there are 4.3 million children in urgent need of humanitarian assistance across South Sudan. Last month's formal declaration of famine only officialized a catastrophe that has been unfolding for months.
Unidentified people have breakfast in front of their huts in displaced persons camp, Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 28, 2012. (Photo: Vlad Karavaev via Getty Images)
The numbers are staggering. The suffering is unparalleled.
When a colleague first shared his story about Helen and Emmanuel, a mother and baby he had met from South Sudan, I was filled with hope. The family had made the four-day trek from South Sudan to Uganda to seek safety in a refugee camp. But Emmanuel was growing frailer by the day. With little food in the camp, Helen decided to return to South Sudan, where she might at least have the support of her community.
On arrival, she found her village abandoned and her husband gone. Soon, Emmanuel fell unconscious. Helen borrowed money to urgently take him to Juba, where he was checked into a malnutrition treatment centre. It should have been a turning point.
Unfortunately, it was too late. We received an email updating us on the situation soon after: Emmanuel had passed away.
Not even one year old, Emmanuel's life was cut short because of a war he couldn't even understand.
A village near Juba, South Sudan. (Photo: DMFoss via Getty Images)
The silver lining was that dedicated humanitarian workers were desperately trying to treat and track Emmanuel's progress, and updating those around the world who were rooting for him. He was suffering, but he wasn't forgotten about.
There are more than one million children across South Sudan who are estimated to be acutely malnourished, with more than 275,000 just like Emmanuel, severely malnourished and in need of immediate aid.
The numbers are staggering, but we can't afford to be paralyzed with inaction.
And it's not just a question of lack of food. It's a question of people being uprooted from their homes due to violence, and an economic crisis that has seen people lose their livelihoods and coping mechanisms stretched beyond the breaking point.
There needs to be a political solution to the conflict. Until then, there needs to be unimpeded access granted to all humanitarian organizations working to reach those hardest to reach. And there needs to be a boost in resources to meet the needs of the millions of children at risk, just like Emmanuel, before it's too late.
Yes, the numbers are staggering, but we can't afford to be paralyzed with inaction. The cost to children's lives is too high, and the threat to the future of the country and the region too great.
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