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Children face worsening nutrition crisis as South Sudan fighting intensifies

One in three children malnourished in areas worst-hit by violence

JUBA, South Sudan, 27 May 2015 – The lives of nearly a quarter of a million children are at significant risk as food and nutrition security rapidly deteriorate in parts of South Sudan, UNICEF said today. The crisis comes as a result of ongoing conflict, diminished household food stocks and a shrinking economy. 

According to the latest predictions from the IPC technical group, of which UNICEF is a member, the number of people facing severe food insecurity has almost doubled since the start of the year from 2.5 million to an estimated 4.6 million people, including approximately 874,000 children under the age of five. This is the highest number of families at crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity since the start of the conflict in December 2013.

UNICEF continues to warn that children trapped by fighting without access to basic medical services and food will struggle to survive this lean season without an urgent resumption of humanitarian assistance in conflict-affected areas.

“Despite all the progress made in the last year with our partners to treat more children than ever before for malnutrition, the lives of vulnerable women and children - who have exhausted all coping mechanisms available to them - are on the line,” said UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan, Jonathan Veitch.

Child malnutrition rates remain above the emergency threshold of 15 per cent in both conflict-affected and high-burden states. Nearly one in three children under five are malnourished in the worst-hit areas of Greater Upper Nile, Warrup and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Very high rates of severe acute malnutrition (up to 10 per cent) have been observed in Unity State in recent UNICEF surveys. If these children are not reached with treatment, they are nine times more likely to die than a healthy child.

Adding to an already dire situation, heavy fighting in Greater Upper Nile has forced at least 100,000 people to flee their homes in May alone, abandoning their crucial lifelines of food stocks, cattle and crops. A number of UNICEF’s nutrition partners have been forced to withdraw services and nutrition supplies have been looted.

“Unless humanitarians are given access to deliver lifesaving services to children and to continue prepositioning supplies before roads become impassable during the rainy season, an already fragile situation will become catastrophic,” said UNICEF’s Veitch.

Through the national Nutrition Scale Up Programme and Rapid Response Missions to remote, conflict-affected areas, UNICEF and partners have treated almost 50,000 children for severe acute malnutrition thus far in 2015.

With a funding shortfall of 75 per cent this year, UNICEF is urgently appealing for US $25 million to continue its lifesaving nutrition response in South Sudan.

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For more information, please contact:

Marianna Zaichykova, Communications Officer, UNICEF South Sudan, Mobile: +211 (0) 956 256 285 Email: mzaichykova@unicef.org   
James Elder, UNICEF Regional Chief of Communication, Eastern & Southern Africa; Mobile: +254 71558 1222; Email: jelder@unicef.org  twitter @1james_elder
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