Fighting in northern South Sudan is preventing lifesaving aid from reaching thousands of people living in “inhumane conditions”, including starving children, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Thursday.
It called for warring parties to allow aid into Malakal, a town in Upper Nile State in the north of the country, which government forces recaptured from rebels on July 6.
Almost 80 children with severe acute malnutrition, which is usually fatal without medical care, cannot receive treatment at MSF’s health centre in Wau Shilluk, on the outskirts of Malakal, because of the fighting, MSF said in a statement.
It has been able to make only one delivery of food and medical supplies to the centre in the past six weeks, it said.
“There is currently no way to resupply them with essential ready-to-use therapeutic food,” it said.
Malakal airport has been closed for over two weeks as government forces try to secure the area from rebels, military spokesman Philip Aguer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“There are fears of clashes around Malakal and this is why the airport is not working; the river transport is not working,” he said.
“The rebels are still around the town. They don’t have the ability to take it again from us, but we want to push them away from the vicinity of the airport.”
Malakal has changed hands many times since South Sudan was plunged into war in December 2013 when fighting between rival factions of the army broke out in the capital, Juba.
It is now virtually empty apart from a heavy military presence, MSF said, and fleeing civilians have come under fire. The town’s population was estimated at around 140,000 in 2010.
Five children were among 36 wounded civilians who were brought to MSF’s Malakal hospital on July 19 and 20 after being attacked by an armed group while travelling in a truck, it said.
“Some had multiple blast injuries caused by grenades and others had bullet wounds,” MSF said.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 2.2 million – around one in six of the population – displaced since the war broke out.
Both sides have been accused of human rights abuses and indiscriminate killings, often along ethnic lines, with former vice president and rebel leader Riek Machar’s Nuers pitted against President Salva Kiir’s powerful Dinka community.
Hunger is at its worst since independence. Nearly 70 percent of the population – 7.9 million people – are expected to face hunger during the current rainy season, the United Nations said.
Stephen O’Brien, who replaced Valerie Amos as the United Nations aid chief earlier this year, is currently in South Sudan to discuss the crisis.