A record 4.5 million children, or two out of three, in South Sudan are in desperate need of humanitarian support, said the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) on Tuesday, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the country's independence.
Hopes that independence from Sudan would bring a new dawn for the country's children have faded.
Bouts of violence and conflict, recurring floods, droughts and other extreme weather events fuelled by climate change, and a deepening economic crisis have led to extremely high food insecurity, and one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, said Unicef in a press release.
Hope and optimism
The recent peace agreement, which has only partially been implemented, has so far failed to bring about any remedy to the challenges facing the country's children and young people, it said.
"The hope and optimism that children and families in South Sudan felt at the birth of their country in 2011 have slowly turned to desperation and hopelessness," said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "The childhood of many 10-year-old children in South Sudan today has been beset by violence, crises and rights abuses."
Overall, 8.3 million people in South Sudan need humanitarian support, a much higher number than the levels seen during the 2013-2018 civil war, which ranged from 6.1 million to 7.5 million people, said Unicef. South Sudan's child mortality rate is among the highest in the world, with 1 in 10 children not expected to reach their fifth birthday.
High levels of food insecurity are of particular concern. Some 1.4 million children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year, the highest figure since 2013. More than 300,000 children, the highest number ever in the country, are expected to suffer from the worst form of malnutrition and are at risk of dying if treatment is not provided, it warned.
The lack of funding is impeding Unicef's work in South Sudan. Unicef's appeal for $180 million to assist the most vulnerable children this year is only one-third funded. The wider humanitarian response plan for South Sudan remains similarly underfunded.
The crisis will worsen with the approach of the lean season. Lives will be lost without urgent action, warned the fund.