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Thousands of children malnourished in war-torn South Sudan

The United Nations, in a report released today, said that child malnutrition is escalating in conflict-torn South Sudan.

UNMISS peacekeepers have been assisting displaced civilians in South Sudan by providing protection, building sanitation and providing medical support.

Fighting between the government and opposition forces has displaced almost 400,000 people. Many have sought refuge at UN compounds or with communities in safer parts of the country.

Save the Children says, "Most worryingly, thousands of others, including children, are likely to have fled to the remote bush; vast swampy areas where people will likely have no shelter and will be living under trees, will be forced to drink stagnant water, and where they will have no access to humanitarian support."

Having lost their livelihoods and food sources the displaced are depending on aid agencies for help. The UN says only about half of these conflict victims have been reached with humanitarian aid. Aid agencies are struggling to reach them because of the violence and insecurity.

The lack of nutrition among the population is taking its toll, especially among small children.

The UN report states, "In a population of 628,000 in need, the number of malnourished children under five is estimated to be just over 20,000 (5,024 severely malnourished and 15,072 moderately malnourished)."

High energy biscuits are being distributed. Children are being screened for malnutrition and then sent on for treatment. Time is crucial because small children will suffer lasting physical and mental damage if not treated promptly.

However, the key is access to all war victims. The UN says, "Distribution of basic food and nutrition supplies is needed – particularly in Bor and Bentiu." Some food warehouses have been looted, further complicating the relief mission.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says it's fed over 74,000 people since the crisis broke out. Even prior to the recent fighting, many in South Sudan were living with hunger and malnutrition. Droughts have caused food shortages. Cattle raids and other fighting has been taking place for years, forcing many families to lose their homes and food supplies.

A prolonged conflict now could threaten South Sudan with famine.

Save the Children has set up a South Sudan relief fund.

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