Women in Bienythiang, Akoka County, Upper Nile state, South Sudan carry UNICEF-supplied mosquito nets.


Refugee Crisis in South Sudan

The world's youngest nation, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, only for civil conflict to erupt in 2013.

South Sudan’s refugee crisis — driven by a complex and dangerous mix of armed conflict, economic decline, disease and hunger — remains the largest in Africa. There are more than 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees, the vast majority of them women and children, living in neighboring countries, mainly Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

Displacement makes it all too easy for children to become separated from their families, disrupting their education and exposing them to violence and exploitation, including forced recruitment into armed groups.

School closures and other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in teenage pregnancies and child labor. Essential health services including vaccination campaigns were also disrupted, opening the door to preventable disease.

The effects of climate change — cyclical droughts, perennial flooding — have also been brutal, contributing to widespread food insecurity. Only 40 percent of the population has sufficient access to safe water. 

Nearly half the population of South Sudan — including over 4 million children — is in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

What UNICEF is doing to help children in South Sudan 

UNICEF's humanitarian work in South Sudan aims to address the most urgent needs, particularly in the areas of health, nutrition, education and child protection. Specific efforts focus on:

  • providing lifesaving treatment for severe acute malnutrition
  • counseling pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers on infant and child nutrition
  • immunizing children against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases
  • supporting the release and safe reintregration of child soldiers 
  • rehabilitating schools damaged by the conflict and creating safe places where children can study and play
  • training teachers, distributing textbooks and classroom supplies
  • supporting remote learning options for kids who can't get to a classroom

Tackling South Sudan's water crisis

UNICEF is also working with partners in South Sudan to improve access to safe water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene; improve sanitation to prevent cholera and other waterborne diseases; and to support the development of sustainable sources of safe water.

"When you deny someone their right to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, you are also denying them the right to health, a life, protection and dignity,” UNICEF South Sudan Representative Hamida Lasseko says. “The foundation for a healthy and productive life as an adult is laid at a young age. Every time a child gets very sick from lack of WASH services, the foundation withers and some will not be fortunate enough to see adulthood. This is not acceptable, as it can be avoided."

Queen, 5, collects water at a water point that UNICEF helped improve in Yambio, South Sudan. The new system includes a filtration chamber, collection chamber, underground reservoirs, two solar-powered submersible pumps and four taps for water collection. Prior to the opening of the facility, members of the community had to walk down a steep slope to collect water from a nearby stream. © UNICEF/UN0372916/Naftalin

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