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Child malnutrition emergency in South Sudan

Children remain in dire situation despite temporary improvements in food security

JUBA, South Sudan, 23 September 2014 – Tens of thousands of children under the age of five remain at risk of malnutrition-related death in South Sudan, despite temporary improvements in the food security situation that were released today by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) group of experts.

Malnutrition, especially among young children, is not mirroring improvements in food security because of high rates of disease, lack of safe water and lack of access to basic health care. Diarrhoea and other illnesses prevent children from absorbing nutrients, so even where there is improved access to food, children can still be dangerously malnourished. Those in conflict-affected areas, especially the 1.4 million people who are internally displaced – more than half of whom are children – are the most at risk.

Malnutrition rates for children are at critical or serious levels in most parts of South Sudan. In some areas where large numbers of people displaced by the conflict have gathered, the rates of acute malnutrition for children are over 30 per cent; this is more than double officially recognized emergency levels. Accessing malnourished children with humanitarian assistance is a major challenge because of ongoing insecurity and the rainy season, which has cut off almost all roads in the country.

“Thousands of malnourished children who have not yet been reached remain in peril,” said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. “We have to take advantage of the coming dry season – and passable roads – to preposition life-saving supplies for the treatment of children suffering from malnutrition. It is critical that we are able to accelerate our response during this window of opportunity.”

The latest IPC analysis projects that 1.5 million people will be in “crisis and emergency food insecurity levels” from September through December, an improvement over the last projection, as the coming months represent the harvest season. The IPC also credits humanitarian assistance for improvement in some areas.

The IPC warns that the outlook for 2015 remains of great concern, with 2.5 million people at crisis or emergency levels from January to March. Although the IPC projection does not extend beyond March 2015, the lean months in South Sudan usually peak around May. Children, who are always the most vulnerable to food shortages, will therefore be at even greater risk of malnutrition.

UNICEF has massively scaled up its humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis in South Sudan. In collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF has increased services for malnourished children through direct implementation and expanding its partnerships on the ground, adding new national and international NGO partners and conducting intensive training activities to strengthen partners’ capacities where needed.

Since April, UNICEF has reached more than 55,000 children under five with treatment for severe acute malnutrition and anticipates that, with its continued scaling up of services, it will reach 120,000 by the end of this year.

An important strategy in reaching remote areas is the use of joint UNICEF and WFP Rapid Response Missions (RRM) to areas otherwise cut off from humanitarian assistance since the beginning of the conflict last December.

During Rapid Response Missions WFP delivers food, while UNICEF screens for malnutrition, treats severely malnourished children, provides basic health services and vaccination, provides expertise and supplies for safe water and sanitation, registers unaccompanied children for reunification with their families, and supports basic education activities.

UNICEF is urgently seeking additional funding of US$25 million to continue to scale up its nutrition response and to preposition life-saving nutrition supplies during the coming dry season.


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For more information please contact:
Doune Porter, Chief of Strategic Communication, UNICEF South Sudan; Mobile: + 211(0)954 819 302 Email:
Kathryn Donovan, Communications Specialist, UNICEF South Sudan; Mobile: + 211(0)959 111 100 Email:
James Elder, UNICEF Regional Chief of Communication, Eastern & Southern Africa; Mobile: +254 71558 1222; Email:  twitter @1james_elder

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