On Saturday, NBA All-Star and Miami Heat Forward, Luol Deng, announced his efforts to address the humanitarian crisis currently facing millions of people in his native country of South Sudan.

Deng and the Luol Deng Foundation aim to raise funds in honor of his 31st birthday on April 16. Deng has set a goal of $100,000 to be contributed to UNICEF's humanitarian programs supporting the most vulnerable children and families in South Sudan.

The crowdfunding campaign on Crowdrise.com will run through the end of April. Funds will be donated to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in support of UNICEF’s emergency response with a focus on alleviating food insecurity and malnutrition in South Sudan. UNICEF is training health providers and partners on how to treat children with severe acute malnutrition through the Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food which is a protein and vitamin-rich peanut paste. Together with the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF has set-up a joint Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), designed to dispatch teams to provide nutrition services directly to children in hard-to-reach conflict-affected areas. The RRM package saves lives through combining food assistance with preventive and curative nutrition, health interventions and access to safe drinking water and hygiene, targeting the underlying causes of malnutrition.

Deng is calling on others to join him in supporting UNICEF’s emergency efforts to reach displaced children and families with lifesaving treatment and other essential services as part of UNICEF’s broader humanitarian response. UNICEF is working closely with partners to provide safe drinking water, immunizations, maternal and newborn health care, child protection and education – including in hard-to-reach areas affected by heavy fighting. Deng will match the first $50,000 in funds raised by the community.

Deng said, “South Sudan is my home and I am humbled to be in a position to help those suffering from lack of access to basic needs, especially the children facing severe acute malnutrition. I hope to raise awareness of their plight and inspire others to support the millions of South Sudanese people who are in urgent need of lifesaving assistance.”

The world’s newest country became an independent state in 2011 following decades of civil war. Approximately 9.6 million South Sudanese people – more than half of whom are children – have been affected by conflict. Many displaced families remain without shelter, access to food and water and are at risk of disease due to the lack of sanitation facilities. The rainy season and related flash flooding exacerbate the humanitarian crisis by flooding camps for displaced people, destroying shelters and flooding facilities with contaminated water.

In 2016 it is expected that 7.5 million people will suffer from food insecurity, while more than 235,000 children will suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition. In remote areas and those difficult to access, these numbers are expected to increase significantly. The time to act is now.

Donors are invited to contribute to the campaign here. No amount is too small to help the residents of South Sudan. For example, a $10 gift can provide 21 packets of Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Food which can bring a child back to a healthy weight within six to eight weeks, $25 will provide 743 packets of micro-nutrient powder and $50 can provide 58 packets of therapeutic milk.

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