Hundreds of thousands of children in South Sudan hungry as drought bites

The United Nations has declared a famine in some parts of South Sudan, where some 5.5 million people, face food shortages. South Sudan has been hit by the same east African drought that has pushed Somalia back to the brink of famine.

AWEIL STATE, SOUTH SUDAN (REUTERS) - In South Sudan, an estimated one million people are reported to be on the brink of starvation, according to aid agencies.

Last month, the United Nations declared a famine in some parts of South Sudan, where nearly half the population - some 5.5 million people - face food shortages.

According to the United Nations Children's Agency Unicef, children and their families are facing a hunger crisis at emergency and critical levels in Aweil state in the country's north-west.

Today, over 270,000 children are estimated to be severely malnourished. These children are nine times more likely to die than a child who is not malnourished.

At a clinic run by Unicef in Aweil state, children receive treatment to address severe malnutrition and mothers are taught preventative nutritional practices that include promotion of breastfeeding for babies.

"The situation is extremely bad. If we don't do much enough to mitigate the situation, we will go to the catastrophe phase. So we don't want to reach that phase. Therefore Unicef and the implementing partners, we are working so hard to ensure that we mitigate the situation by scaling up our response in an integrated manner," said Unicef nutrition officer Judy Juru Michael, who is based in Aweil.

South Sudan has been hit by the same east African drought that has pushed Somalia back to the brink of famine, six years after 260,000 people starved to death in 2011.