South Sudan children face growing food and disease crisis

Pupils get a lesson in Ephatha Primary School in Juba, South Sudan

Hundreds of thousands of children are facing a growing humanitarian disaster in conflict-torn South Sudan.

UNICEF says they are at greater risk of disease and malnutrition because annual rains will make many roads almost unusable, hitting the supply of life-saving supplies.

Dr Yasmin Haque, UNICEF’s Deputy Director of Emergency Programmes, said: “Time is running out for the children of the world’s newest nation – we need better resources, better access, peace and security. Children cannot wait.”

Children and women have been particularly affected by the fighting in South Sudan. One in three of the country’s population is of school age.

Dr Haque said the conflict has seen schools occupied by fighters and children being recruited by armed groups.

Already 250,000 South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries including Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya to escape the fighting. A further 700,000 are displaced inside South Sudan.

Fighting between government and opposition forces that began in mid-December has left nearly five million people in need of humanitarian aid.

Dr Haque added: ““With the annual rains fast approaching, the clock is ticking louder and louder towards a humanitarian disaster for children in South Sudan.

“The people we met in Nyal in Unity State sought refuge on small islands surrounded by water. They had not eaten a decent meal in about 75 days and were barely surviving on palm nuts, wild roots and lily stems and seeds. Some were trying to weave nets to fish.

“Young children were in a desperate state, some had to run for their lives and had been separated from their families in the process. It was very sad to witness.”

You can learn more about the education issues facing South Sudan in our Explore channel.