To feed the 60,000 people currently besieged in Yei, South Sudan, residents must rely on fast-dwindling reserves, rare food aid convoys and crops grown in urban areas.

In South Sudan, 6 million people – half the country’s population – are affected by food insecutiry, and the health and lives of children are in danger. Terre des Hommes is helping families in Yei, a city cut off by armed forces, by sharing urban farming techniques.

The Yei region is green and fertile, contrasting with the images of drought and desolation usually associated with famines. Indeed, food shortages in South Sudan have not been caused by dry weather or poor harvests, but by the on-going civil war which started in 2013. This has resulted in a severe food crisis.

Because of this, more than 200,000 people in the Yei region – fifteen percent of them children – are acutely malnourished.

Over two million people have been internally displaced in South Sudan, with almost two million refugees being forced out of the country completely

“Government forces cut off the city late last year, announcing that any person found in a circle of 2.5 km outside the city limits would be considered as supporting the rebels,” says Cynthia Winkelmann, Terre des Hommes’ Humanitarian Aid Programme Officer who has recently visited South Sudan.

“Farmers had to leave their lands outside the city and live in the city of Yei in houses that are abandoned by people who had fled to other countries.”

Two out of three refugees forced to flee South Sudan are 17 or younger

The situation is critical. To feed the population, this city of 60,000 people must make do with a fast-dwindling supply of reserves, rare convoys of food aid and land within urban areas.

“Urban farming helps people survive siege conditions. Ten grams of seeds, for example, can produce thousands of tomato plants,” explains Cynthia. “Since spring this year, we’ve distributed seeds and farming tools to 2,000 vulnerable families, such as single mothers and internally displaced persons. They’ve also been given gardening and storage training.”

This project was launched in coordination with Swiss NGO EPER – who have been working in the region for many years – and with local organisations.

Harvesting the first crops

Those who received training were harvesting their first tomatoes some weeks ago. Margaret, who lives in an area which is home to nine families, is one of these people. “I give any extra to my neighbours, like Hamin and his mother, who sought refuge here after fleeing their home,” she says.

Tomatoes were chosen for bringing a diversity of food to the population in that region. However, aubergines, cabbage, okra and onions have also been planted. Simultaneously, a nutritional programme in schools ensures that 3,000 children are eating at least one meal per day.

Strengthening children’s immune system

As underlined by Martin Morand, Terre des Hommes’ Operations Manager in South Sudan, it is not enough for children to receive sufficient food – they must also have varied diets. “This is especially true for mothers and children during the first 1,000 days of life. Nutritional deficiencies can weaken a child’s immune system and delay development.”

Hunger rarely kills. The real threat comes from diseases that take advantage of the body’s weaknesses. In South Sudan, cholera is taking a huge toll. “As part of our strategy, we run nutritional programmes alongside projects to improve hygiene and provide safe drinking water,” said Martin. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Destination Unknown is rooted in the work campaign members like Terre des Hommes do to help children on the move on the ground – both outside and within their home countries. We take what we learn from experiencing the perilous reality these children and young people face to governments and policymakers across the word, to instigate the change they need at the highest levels.

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