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UN Warns of ‘Lost Generation’ In South Sudan's Grinding Conflict

FILE - A South Sudanese man, who says he was shot in the back and thigh by government soldiers while trying to get food in a nearby town in order to feed his starving family, sits with his five children outside his house in Jiech, Ayod County, South Sudan

Seventy percent of South Sudan's children are out of school and the young country risks losing a generation that would make it harder to rebuild after conflict ended, a United Nations official said.

South Sudan, which split off from its northern neighbor Sudan in 2011, has been gripped by a four-year civil war sparked by political rivalry between incumbent leader Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF's executive director, made the warning after visiting some of the areas most devastated by the war.

"Seventy percent of the children are out of school; that is highest in the world. There is too much violence." she said “If we don’t help ... we are going to lose this generation and that would be tragic for South Sudan because a country cannot build itself without this next generation of young people."

Fore said she had visited towns in the country's north and witnessed widespread malnutrition among children and warned: "We are heading into the dry season... we might lose up to quarter million children in South Sudan."

An estimated tens of thousands have died in the conflict which has also displaced a quarter of the country's population of 12 million.

The country's economy, nearly entirely dependent on oil exports, has been left in tatters as output has been cut. Agricultural production, too, has declined as insecurity has left some times entire villages abandoned and gardens unattended.

A cease-fire deal was signed in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa last month to halt the fighting but it has been violated repeatedly with both sides blaming each other.

Attacks have also been directed at humanitarian workers, complicating delivery of relief services on which hundreds of thousands of the displaced depend.