The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has issued a dire warning that ongoing conflict has brought South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, to the brink of a massive child malnutrition crisis in which as many as 50,000 young children could die by year’s end.
UNICEF estimates nearly 250,000 children “will suffer acute malnutrition by the end of the year” unless treatment efforts are dramatically improved.
“Many children in South Sudan already faced emergency levels of under-nutrition in the two-and-a-half years since independence,” UNICEF said in a statement. “Now the ongoing conflict has pushed them to the edge- unless treatment is scaled up immediately. Up to 50,000 children under the age of five are likely to die.”
The organization estimates that 3.7 million South Sudanese are at risk of “food insecurity.”
UNICEF spokesman Doune Porter said four months of what is essentially a civil war have driven many children from their homes, and it is these children who are at the greatest risk of suffering from acute malnutrition. The fighting has also destroyed about a third of the new nation’s 336 malnutrition treatment centers, Voice of America reports.
Jonathan Veitch, a UNICEF representative in South Sudan, also warned that if the conflict there continues, farmers will be forced to skip this year’s planting season, increasing the possibility of “child malnutrition on a scale never before experienced here.”
UNICEF is also appealing for donations to fund malnutrition prevention efforts in South Sudan. The organization’s immediate goal of treating 150,000 severely malnourished children under the age of five would require some $38 million. So far, only $4.6 million has been raised, AFP reports.
Nearly 900,000 South Sudanese have been displaced by the conflict, which began when fighting erupted between government forces supporting President Salva Kiir and insurgents loyal to his former deputy, Riek Machar.
Kiir is a member of the Dinka, South Sudan’s largest ethnic group, while Machar is Nuer, the second-largest group. The fighting has been largely along ethnic lines, although both leaders enjoy considerable support among members of their opponent’s ethnic group.
Although the two sides signed a ceasefire in January, fighting continues. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has declared that the conflict has precipitated a “serious deterioration in the food security situation.” OCHA says fighting continues in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, where both towns and countryside have been “ravaged.”