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Conditions worsen for children fleeing South Sudan fighting

If the current situation continues, 250,000 South Sudanese children could be affected by severe malnutrition by the end of the year
If the current situation continues, 250,000 South Sudanese children could be affected by severe malnutrition by the end of the year

The continuing fighting in South Sudan is having an enormously damaging effect on children in the country as well as those who have fled to others for safety.

Fighting in South Sudan continues, despite attempts to bring both sides around the negotiating table. So far, over a million have been displaced and thousands more killed by the sectarian violence that has been spreading since late last year. This has been combined with other worrying factors, including an outbreak of cholera and widespread food insecurity, which threaten to add to the death toll. These challenges disproportionately affect both children who have remained in the country and those who have fled.

A recent report by World Vision highlights the challenges that children in South Sudan are currently facing. The report found that nearly 250,000 children in the country will be suffering from severe malnutrition by the end of the year, and 50,000 under-5s could die if more is not done soon. Adding to this are the growing number of cholera cases that UNICEF warns will only pile more pressure on the most vulnerable groups.

Support needed

Even when they have fled the country altogether, the challenges that South Sudanese children face continue to make every day a struggle. Many children crossing the border into Kenya have been completely unaccompanied and many more are accompanied by a relative who is not their parent or normal carer. The trauma that these children have already had to endure means they need immediate specialist care once they finally arrive at refugee camps, such as Kakuma in north-west Kenya.

Sadly, IRIN news reports that under current circumstances, it is difficult for camp staff to provide this support. Ideally, children who arrive at Kakuma without a parent would be assessed within two weeks so that targeted support can be offered as quickly as possible. However, the large numbers of people that arrive every day and a shortage of staff and funding have meant that assessments usually take up to two months. This extended wait has a clear impact on the care that can be offered to these most vulnerable children, but the problems do not end here.

Broader problems

Many children and young people who have fled to Kenya and other neighbouring states also continue to face many of the same challenges as those who remain in South Sudan. The rapid growth of the camps has made hygiene standards difficult to maintain, so cholera is a risk here as well. Equally, most of the camps have mixed populations of Dinkas and Nuers, the main ethnic groups that are involved in the fighting. This is in order to promote integration, but a number of young men tell IRIN that they have suffered numerous beatings because of their ethnic background.

There is a pressing need for more humanitarian aid to South Sudanese people, both inside and outside the country. Only with this support will agencies be able to reduce overcrowding in camps and combat malnutrition. Encouragingly, the World Vision report points out that prior to fighting the healthcare, education and food security infrastructure in South Sudan were all actually improving. Returning to this normality is therefore key to helping the country’s population as effectively as possible, and for helping children in particular.

The fighting in South Sudan forced us to evacuate our SOS Children's Village in Malakal and move the children to safety in the capital, Juba. We will continue to support the country's most vulnerable children throughout the ongoing conflict and long into the future. Find out more.

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