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In South Sudan, Joint Rapid Response Missions Reach More than 1 Million People

By United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
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More than one million people — 20 percent of them children under the age of 5 — have now received life-saving assistance from UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and their partners in South Sudan through 82 joint emergency missions to communities hardest-hit by conflict.

As the vast majority of the 1.7 million people internally displaced by violence in South Sudan fled to remote areas inaccessible by road, UNICEF and WFP designed the Integrated Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) in early 2014 to bring urgent assistance by air and river to desperate families. Teams normally consist of technical specialists who fly into remote areas by helicopter and establish a temporary camp where they remain for up to two weeks. In addition to providing immediate emergency services, RRM teams work to establish, or reopen, long-term humanitarian access to remote communities.

“The rapid response missions are reaching the most desperate communities in the least accessible parts of the country using whatever means necessary, whether by air, by boat, or by foot,” said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. “This assistance, along with the incredible resilience of women and children, have helped keep people alive over the past two years. But we cannot expect vulnerable children, whose physical and mental health has been so marred, to live one more year in these conditions.”

These missions have been instrumental in averting famine, as the number of people facing hunger soars — currently half the country's population do not know where their next meal is coming from.

“The rapid response missions have been standing between people and starvation in several parts of the country,” said Joyce Luma, the WFP Representative and Country Director in South Sudan. “This is a lifeline that must be maintained where access remains a challenge, but we also hope to see more organizations reestablishing permanent field presence where possible for continuous support to communities.”

Even before the conflict began, South Sudan was already one of the most difficult countries in the world to deliver relief assistance in, with 60 percent of the country inaccessible by road during the rainy season. Insecurity has further hampered the delivery of aid, and lack of funding has now forced some partners to shut down services.

One in three of all separated or missing children registered for family reunification have been identified through these RRM missions in the remotest areas of South Sudan. A quarter of the child immunizations carried out in the three states worst affected by the conflict are performed by RRM teams. More than 180,000 children have been screened for malnutrition since the mechanism was established.

The needs, however, remain great. More than 50,000 children with severe malnutrition were admitted to treatment programmes between January and March of this year, a 30 percent increase from 2015. Efforts to respond to suspected measles outbreaks continue, with nearly 400 cases having been either lab or clinically confirmed.

As the long rainy season begins, UNICEF and WFP will continue to reach remote communities. The agencies are also working to establish or reopen, wherever possible, permanent humanitarian services to communities who are without access to food, healthcare, nutrition, education and clean water.