Geneva — The U.N. Children's Fund warns that nearly 250,000 children in war-torn South Sudan will suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year and tens of thousands could die if more is not done to help them.
UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulieroc told VOA more than 3.7 million people in South Sudan are at high risk of not getting enough to eat. Among them, he said are 740,000 children under age five.
"This means that if nothing is done to increase, to scale up the action against malnutrition - that means that 50,000 children under five could die unless they benefit from treatment ... But, the violence is really worsening the situation in this regard," he said.
UNICEF staff report many people are resorting to eating wild foods, such as bulbs and grasses. They warn the continuing conflict between the government and rebels is forcing more people to flee their homes.
If the violence persists, it notes farmers might miss the planting season, which would increase child malnutrition to heights never seen before.
Boulieroc said UNICEF's immediate goal is to treat more than 150,000 severely malnourished children - a treatment that could save many lives.
"We provide them treatment. We have several rapid response teams to reach the children. You know there is a question of access. We bring them therapeutic food, micro-nutrient supplements, medicines, water purification sachet and other things ... The fight against malnutrition remains the priority in South Sudan," he said.
Boulieroc said children are vulnerable even in the best of times. But, during this intense period of violence, he says children are exposed to many dangers other than that of malnutrition.
He said many children become separated from their families while fleeing their homes. This exacerbates their already traumatic situation.
In addition, he said children are being recruited as soldiers by both sides to the conflict. He said UNICEF does not yet have accurate information as to the numbers. But he said aid workers are gathering information and trying to do what they can to protect children from being recruited.
Boulieroc said the agency has only received $4.6 million of its $38 million appeal.