Hunger, malaria and families torn apart: The cost of war in South Sudan - the world's newest country

ITV News has witnessed the cost of civil war in the world's newest country where half its population doesn't have enough food to eat.

If the brutal blood-letting were a little closer to home, if those desperate to escape murder, rape and starvation were landing on Europe’s doorstep, we might have taken more notice of the catastrophe that is South Sudan.

But this is a crisis that has unfolded in the dark shadow of Syria, and if not entirely unnoticed, then certainly it has been under-reported.

So here, according to Unicef, for which this is the second costliest commitment in a wide world of strife, is South Sudan’s disintegration rendered in dry and disturbing statistics:

  • There are five million people without enough to eat - almost half the country’s population.

  • Cases of severe acute malnutrition in children doubled last year to 362,000 and this year could get worse.

  • Nearly 15,000 youngsters have been separated from their families.

  • More than one million people have fled the country and there are almost two million displaced within South Sudan.

Tim Irwin, Unicef South Sudan spokesman, told ITV News: "This [conflict] is devastating for the lives of children, for innocent civilians.

"In these situations of course it is the most vulnerable that suffer most - and here that's particularly women and children."

"There are certainly grave violations against children," Mahimbo Mdoe’s, head of Unicef’s operations, says succinctly of the myriad cases of killing, sexual assault, and use of child soldiers.

Just a mile or two down the road from his office in the capital Juba is the Al-Shabbah Children’s Hospital.

Inside the Al-Shabbah Children’s Hospital, Juba. Credit: ITV News

Here you will find babies consumed by hunger, their plight compounded by disease.

In one bed, we find Josephine John, a teenage mum, who spent three days hiding on a river bank with her infant son Khamis. They had nowhere else to run when the soldiers came to their village and killed three neighbours.

Khamis now has malaria.

"Some children die," said Betty Uchens, nutritional supervisor at the hospital.

"Some are brought here in a terminal stage. Some die before we even get a chance to help them."

Still, they work miracles despite the shortage of food and basic medicines.

Many of the women have husbands away fighting. For which side, no-one volunteers to say. That’s hardly a surprise when the UN has warned of potential genocide.

Children play with toy guns at a UN camp sheltering thousands of South Sudanese. Credit: ITV News

For this is an ugly ethnic war which pits the dominant Dinka tribe of President Salva Kiir against the Nuer of his sacked Vice-President, Riek Machar.

Poison the well further with personal enmity, a corrupt grab for the nation’s wealth, and a patchwork of other tribal militia and you understand why there’s so much despair.

Out of town is the vast tent city, guarded by UN troops, that is home to tens of thousands of people who have fled the war.

Britain is due to send around 400 troops, mainly engineers, to bolster the UN mission to South Sudan. Credit: ITV News
This camp in South Sudan is home to 37,000 displaced people. Credit: ITV News

They’ve been told by their government that it’s safe to head home. But wouldn’t you prefer to heed the warning of witnesses like Betty Emba.

She's 16-years-old, and was head girl at her school when the men with guns came with killing on their mind.

"People were dying," she tells me, her face a sombre mask of sorrow.

"I was with my teacher and they shot him down because they wanted to rape me. That's when I ran. I hid behind a tree."

She escaped, but there’s no happy ending for Betty. Her parents and her young sister are all missing.

"I am here alone. It is not easy."

Betty Emba became separated from her family when soldiers entered her village. Credit: ITV News

We pass her details to the Unicef team that will try to trace survivors.

"There are thousands of children we can’t reach," says Mdoe, the Unicef chief. His biggest frustration is getting access to parts of the country cut off by rebel and government forces.

But there are money worries too. There’s a £90 million shortfall in the Unicef budget.

Rose's fourth child is suffering from malnutrition. Credit: ITV News

"I feel there’s a fatigue [among donors]," Mdoe admits. "It's been going on for a very long time and it doesn’t seem to get any better."

Rose has already buried three children. Now her fourth is suffering from the same hunger, the same fever, the same hollow eyes.

She cradles him close and tried to get him to eat.

"I don’t know why God will not spare me this one child," she tells me.