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UNICEF Warns of Grim Future for South Sudan's Children

FILE - Children inspect a burnt structure in Gumuruk, South Sudan, June 8, 2021, after their village was attacked by an armed group.
FILE - Children inspect a burnt structure in Gumuruk, South Sudan, June 8, 2021, after their village was attacked by an armed group.

Ahead of South Sudan’s 10th year of independence, the U.N. Children’s Fund warns the country is facing a catastrophic humanitarian situation, with two out of every three children in need of international aid.

South Sudan’s joyous Independence Day celebrations on July 9, 2011, were short-lived. Two years later, civil war erupted. The awful legacy of that war, which is estimated to have killed nearly 400,000 people, lives on today.

The United Nations reports 1.6 million people are internally displaced and 2.2 million people who fled across borders as refugees remain in exile. The U.N. children’s fund reports 8.3 million people, including a record 4.5 million children are in desperate need of humanitarian support.

Speaking from the capital Juba, UNICEF chief of field operations in South Sudan Mads Oyen says the country is suffering from multiple man-made and natural disasters. These include bouts of violence and intercommunal conflicts, revenge killings, recurring floods and droughts, and a worsening economy.

"South Sudan is really one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and one of the most forgotten. We have the highest percentage of children in need in the world as part of the global population," Oyen said.

UNICEF reports South Sudan is breaking several unfortunate records. It notes one in 10 children are not expected to reach their fifth birthday, in what represents one of the highest child mortality rates in the world. In addition, according to UNICEF, about 1.4 million of South Sudan's children are expected to suffer from life-threatening acute malnutrition this year, the highest figure since 2013.

Oyen said UNICEF and its partners have shown they can save many children’s lives if given the resources to provide early therapeutic treatment to them.

"Ninety thousand children suffering from severe acute malnutrition throughout the country were treated and we have a recovery rate of more than 95%. So, a child who is severely acutely malnourished is a disaster, but the treatment is very effective," Oyen said.

Although successful treatment for this condition is available, Oyen said it would be better to prevent children from becoming malnourished in the first place. He said UNICEF would like to scale up its nutritional programs for children and improve access to clean water. He said other priorities include improving sanitation and hygiene and access to basic health.

But funds are limited. He said UNICEF has received only one third of the $180 million it needs to assist South Sudan’s most vulnerable children this year.