New UN survey reveals alarming malnutrition rates among Darfur’s children

Child malnutrition rates have reached their highest level in three years in the strife-torn Darfur region of Sudan, according to a joint survey carried out by the Government and the United Nations, which is leading what is the currently the largest relief effort in the world aimed at assisting some 4.2 million people.

The overall malnutrition rate among children under five in Darfur reached 16.1 per cent this year, compared to 12.9 per cent last year, surpassing for the first time since 2004 the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.

That is just one of the findings of the food security and nutrition assessment carried out in August and September by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), along with the Sudanese Government.

The report also reveals that a larger proportion of children aged 6-29 months are malnourished than children aged 30-59 months. Moreover, malnutrition is highest in North Darfur - over 20 per cent - compared to other parts of the region. Among the contributing factors cited in the report are poor feeding practices, inadequate sanitation, low health coverage, and low coverage of special feeding programmes.

Continuing insecurity is also a primary cause, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which noted that access to those in need has been compromised in the course of this year by fighting, particularly violence against civilians and aid workers, with attacks directed at the latter having risen 150 per cent this year.

More than 13,000 humanitarian workers are deployed in Darfur, including staff from 13 UN agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent societies and some 80 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Over 200,000 people have been killed and another 2.2 million forced to flee their homes, living either as internally displaced persons (IDPs) or as refugees in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR), since fighting began between Government forces and rebel groups in 2003.

Earlier this year the Security Council authorized the creation of a hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID, to try to quell the violence. The operation - set to become the world's largest peacekeeping operation with some 20,000 troops and more than 6,000 police and civilian staff - is scheduled to take over from the existing AU mission next week.

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