Hunger crisis worsening in South Sudan

Health workers in South Sudan say the hunger crisis there is worsening.

Five and a half million people are now facing severe food shortages in the world's newest nation.

Famine has already been declared in parts of Unity State and now northern Bahr El Ghazal is on the brink of a similar fate, with 300,000 at risk of starvation.

Food supply routes have been cut off because of border closures in the north and inter-tribal fighting to the east and south of the region.

And in Aweil East, children are suffering the most.

Children waiting to be assessed at an emergency nutrition site are tiny and frail, while some lay motionless in the heat.

There's apprehension and confusion in their eyes, but health workers know how serious the signs are.

"The situation is very desperate. The community are in need of food and without humanitarian assistance, their hope is not there... and people may die," World Vision Commodity Officer Francis Chol.

Commodity Nutrition Worker John Akot Kenyang said the number of malnourished children and pregnant mothers is too high.

They screen more than 50 beneficiaries a day and each day, those numbers grow.

Mother Aweng Piol told Newshub the situation for both her and her daughter Bguet is desperate.

"I don't know whether it is disease or hunger... but my child keeps losing weight. I have nothing to give her and I'm really worried that my daughter might die," she said.

Two-year-old Akan-Garang arrived not only hungry, but also with serious injuries.

She fell in a fire while her mother, Bakhita Avuk, was away collecting leaves to eat. The children were hungry and trying to cook while she was gone.

Drought ruined her family's crops. Her reliance on leaves has already had fatal consequences for another of her children.

"The child was okay and then all of a sudden she had diarrhoea in the evening... and in the morning she died," Ms Avuk told Newshub.

"We had no food and when she got diarrhoea, she became too weak."

When Newshub visited the site, there were 347 children under the age of five. All of them are acutely malnourished and many simply don't have the energy to stand up.

Co-ordinator James Mayuen said multiple hunger-related deaths have already been recorded here - an official declaration of famine is just a matter of time.

"It's sad actually, what is going on," he said.

"Seeing people suffering, seeing people dying... It's not easy."

High-nutrient rations from World Vision are keeping children alive, but such is the need, this food often ends up being shared.

"The only hope that they have is the humanitarian assistance that we are giving, which is not enough, actually," Mr Chol said.

The UN is warning mass deaths from starvation could become a reality, as people struggle to live just day to day.

And without more sustained support, the outlook is bleak.

Michael Morrah travelled to East Africa with assistance from World Vision. Click here to donate to the East Africa Hunger Crisis campaign.