Confirming that children were killed in South Sudan during recent brutal attacks on displaced civilians or as a result of being recruited by armed groups, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned Tuesday that the surging violence is exacerbating an already "very dangerous" malnutrition crisis.
Children were among the dozens of internally displaced persons (IDPs) attacked by gunmen on 17 April while sheltering at a UN site in the central South Sudanese town of Bor, capital of strife-torn Jonglei state, UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva.
"The exact numbers are currently being verified," he said, adding that up to 23,000 people are currently sheltering at the base. Some of the children were killed either in direct attacks or as a result of being caught in the crossfire.
Over the past two months, thousands of people are believed to have been killed by fighting that began in mid-December 2013 as a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy president, Riek Machar.
Since last Thursday, as fresh violence swept towns in the northern and central parts of the country, clashes and reprisal attacks have forced thousands of people to seek refuge at the bases of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
The latest spate of killings is also worsening an already precarious food and water situation, making malnutrition increasingly likely for some 50,000 children under five years of age who could die by the end of the year without urgent action.
A quarter of a million children would suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year, UNICEF announced Tuesday.
UNICEF's immediate goal is to reach 150,000 children under five years old currently suffering from malnutrition, "partly through rapid response teams that would deliver ready to use therapeutic foods, micronutrients among others," Boulierac said.
Access to clean water is also a concern at the UN base in Bentiu, where there are currently only one or two bottles for each person per day. UNICEF staff are attempting to drill boreholes to provide more drinking water to the camps to balance out the "inadequate" water access.
The UN agency is calling for $38 million to meet nutrition needs in the country. That is in addition to a $1.3 billion appeal which is now just 38 percent funded, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
"This is fierce, brutal infantry fighting - children must not be instruments of this conflict," UNICEF's Jonathan Veitch said earlier of the most recent violence. "Those in positions of command and leadership have a duty to keep children out of harm's way and take all necessary measures to prevent children being part of armed groups and forces."
by RTT Staff Writer
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