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Child Malnutrition Crisis Deepens in South Sudan

  • Lisa Schlein

Aleo Tong (1), who suffers severe malnutrition, rests on a bed at the MSF Nutrition centre in Aweil Hospital, on August 2, 2016.

Aleo Tong (1), who suffers severe malnutrition, rests on a bed at the MSF Nutrition centre in Aweil Hospital, on August 2, 2016.

The United Nations Children’s Fund reports that hundreds of thousands of children in South Sudan are severely malnourished. The agency said the situation is getting worse as the country’s conflict drags on.

Millions of people in South Sudan are suffering from growing food shortages due to conflict and rising prices for increasingly scarce commodities. But, UNICEF said children are hit hardest by this catastrophic situation.

UNICEF says it has treated 120,000 South Sudanese children under five for severe malnutrition in the past six months. It says this is an increase of nearly 50 percent over the same period last year and more than 150 percent increase compared to 2014.

UNICEF spokesman, Christophe Boulierac said his agency now plans to treat more than a quarter-million severely malnourished children this year.

In some areas, he said, up to a third of all children aren’t getting enough food.

“Seven out of the country’s 10 states have reached the emergency threshold of 15 percent global acute malnutrition, while in Northern Bar el Ghazal the malnutrition rate is 33 percent,” said Boulierac.

Challis McDonough, World Food Program spokeswoman for East Africa, said one of the most heartbreaking sights is that of a malnourished child.

“When you are used to seeing children, they have a light in their eyes and a malnourished child, when they are very, very ill, that light will have gone out… The listlessness and the lack of energy is the one that really breaks your heart. I have seen children that cannot even lift their head up off of their mother’s shoulder and they will be much smaller than you would expect for a child of that age.”

McDonough warns life-long damage to physical and mental development can result if a child under two is malnourished for an extended length of time. She says babies who do not get the right nutrition will not be able to live up to their full potential as adults even if they survive.

Aid groups have been trying to help feed the millions of South Sudanese left hungry because of their country’s conflict, but relief workers face tough challenges of insecurity, remote locations and often-impassable roads.