Juba — The youngest citizens of the world's newest nation are on the verge of a nutrition crisis and nearly a quarter of a million children will suffer severe acute malnutrition by the end of the year if more is not done now, says UNICEF.
Many children in South Sudan already faced emergency levels of under-nutrition in the two and a half years since independence in 2011. Now the ongoing conflict has pushed them to the edge - unless treatment is scaled up immediately, up to 50,000 children under the age of five are likely to die.
Currently, over 3.7 million people, including almost 740,000 children under five, in the country are at high risk of food insecurity. Many are already resorting to eating so-called "famine foods", wild foods such as bulbs and grasses.
"Sadly, worse is yet to come. If conflict continues, and farmers miss the planting season, we will see child malnutrition on a scale never before experienced here," said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. "If we cannot get more funds and better access to reach malnourished children in South Sudan, tens of thousands of under-fives will die."
"These are not mere statistics - they are the children for whom South Sudan holds so much potential and promise. We must not fail the children of this new and fragile nation," said Mr Veitch.
UNCEF's immediate goal is to treat more than 150,000 severely malnourished children under five. In part this will occur through rapid response teams that deliver ready to use therapeutic foods, micronutrient supplements, medicines, water purification sachets, Vitamin A and deworming tablets, and support breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women.
This fast and flexible approach is currently being deployed in remote, previously unreachable areas. However to fully meet nutrition needs in South Sudan, UNICEF currently needs $38 million, of which just $4.6 million has been received.