Children in south Sudan desperate
Geneva - Thousands of children in south Sudan are living in "desperate" conditions due to serious malnutrition, as well as a lack of access to medical care and education, the UN children's agency said on Wednesday.
"By any international standards, the situation of children in south Sudan is really desperate," said Yasmin Ali Haque, who heads Unicef's bureau in the region.
Malnutrition is one of the major problems of the region where 90% of the 9 million inhabitants live with less than a dollar a day, said the UNICEF official.
Around 1.2 million people were dependent on food aid in 2009, the UN agency said, noting that more than 40 000 children in the region are treated every year for malnutrition.
After years of conflict with the Arab-dominated north, "generations of children (in south Sudan) have not had access to schooling or proper health care," she added.
South Sudan also has one of the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world, with more than 2 000 women dying in every 100 000 births.
Due to the lack of access to healthcare, one in every seven children "don't live until their fifth birthday," Haque said.
In addition, only one out of five children aged six enters school.
In the past five years, the situation has improved with the end of the conflict with the north, said Haque, although she acknowledged that "still a lot more need to be done".
She said the referendum on independence planned for January 9 could worsen a humanitarian situation which is already complicated by "floods, drought, inter-tribal conflict or attacks" by Ugandan rebels.
"There is a constant humanitarian situation in South Sudan and there is the potential that it gets worse," she added.
South Sudan is widely expected to opt for independence in the referendum, which would split Africa's largest country in two.