South Sudan among 15 countries worst affected by acute malnutrition

South Sudan among 15 countries worst affected by acute malnutrition
Mothers and children gather at an IDP camp in South Sudan. UNICEF predicts heightened level of malnutrition in South Sudan mid this year. [File Photo]

South Sudan has been named among the 15 countries worst-hit by an unprecedented food and nutrition crisis that has affected millions of children.

This was highlighted in a joint statement released by the five United Nations agencies operating in the country, among them the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The agencies noted that conflict, climate shocks, the ongoing effects of COVID-19, and rising living costs were fueling an increase in the number of acutely malnourished children.

In addition, increasing malnutrition has been blamed on a lack of access to nutrition and other life-saving services.

 “More than 30 million children are currently suffering from wasting, or acute malnutrition – in the 15 worst affected countries, with 8 million of these children severely wasted, the deadliest form of undernutrition,” the statement read.

 “This is a major threat to children’s lives as well as their long-term health and development, with consequences felt by individuals, communities, and countries.”


In response, five United Nations agencies have called for faster progress on the Global Action Plan on Child Wasting, which aims to prevent, detect, and treat acute malnutrition among children in the worst affected countries.

The countries include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.

Meanwhile, an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five are said to be acutely malnourished in South Sudan, with over 310,000 suffering from severe wasting.

UNICEF and partners treated over 240,000 children last year, but the situation remains critical, as floods have killed cattle, washed away food and fields, and obstructed humanitarian access.

The general reaction follows efforts by the United Nations Global Action Plan to address the need for a multi-sectoral approach and highlight priority actions across maternal and child nutrition systems, including food, health, water and sanitation, and social protection.

The press release stated that because of the growing need, the United Nations agencies have identified five priority actions that would be effective in addressing acute malnutrition in countries affected by conflict and natural disasters, as well as humanitarian emergencies.

 Scaling up these actions as part of a coordinated package would be critical for preventing and treating acute malnutrition in children, as well as averting a tragic loss of life, the statement read.

The UN agencies are urging swift and decisive action to prevent this crisis from turning into a tragedy for the world’s most vulnerable children.

All organizations call for increased investment in support of a coordinated UN response to meet the unprecedented needs of this growing crisis before it is too late.

Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,QU Dongyu, said the situation is likely to deteriorate even further in 2023.

“We must ensure the availability, affordability, and accessibility of healthy diets for young children, girls, and pregnant and lactating women. “We need urgent action now to save lives, and to tackle the root causes of acute malnutrition, working together across all sectors,” QU said as

Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), explained that the UN system is responding to the crisis, and the UN Global Action Plan on Child Wasting is a collaborative effort to prevent, detect, and treat child wasting globally.

“At UNHCR, we are working hard to improve analysis and targeting in order to reach the most vulnerable children, including internally displaced and refugee populations,” Grandi said.

 Catherine Russell, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the cascading crises are leaving millions of children wasted and have made it harder for them to access key services.

“Wasting is painful for the child, and in severe cases can lead to death or permanent damage to children’s growth and development. We can and must turn this nutrition crisis around through proven solutions to prevent, detect, and treat child wasting early,” Russell said in the press statement 

The press release stated that Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, had noted that “urgent assistance is required now in the most affected countries to protect children’s lives and health.”

Wasting, also known as acute malnutrition, is a type of undernutrition caused by a decrease in food consumption or illness that causes rapid weight loss or oedema. Children with acute malnutrition have low weight for height. They may also have nutritional oedema and other related pathological clinical signs.