More than half a million children in conflict zones could die from extreme hunger before the end of the year, new research by Save the Children shows.
The charity estimates 4,500,000 children under the age of five will need treatment for life-threatening malnutrition this year in the most dangerous conflict zones for children, an increase of nearly 20% since 2016.
But at current rates, two in three of these severely malnourished children are set to miss out on vital treatment this year, with 590,000 expected to die as a result.
That’s an average of 1,600 children under the age of five dying from extreme hunger every day, or one child every minute.
Save the Children’s new analysis comes as humanitarian agencies grapple with chronic funding shortfalls to many UN emergency appeals for conflict zones, and as warring parties acting in defiance of international humanitarian law increasingly prevent supplies from reaching children in need of help. 
Global hunger is on the rise after declining for more than two decades, with the UN citing conflict as the main reason for that reversal.
Severe Acute Malnutrition, or SAM, is the most extreme and dangerous form of undernutrition. Symptoms include jutting ribs and loose skin, with visible wasting of body tissue; or swelling in the ankles, feet, and belly as blood vessels leak fluid under the skin.
Severely malnourished children also have substantially reduced immune systems and are far more likely to contract and die of diseases like pneumonia, cholera, and malaria than healthy children. Even where children survive, the effects of malnutrition can be life-long and affect physical and mental development.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International, said:
“In 2018 no child should be dying from hunger. But the number of hungry people on our planet has started to rise again. This is shameful. Hunger is not inevitable.
“Many of these children are in war zones. Time after time we are seeing starvation used as a weapon of war when deliveries of food are obstructed by the warring parties in places like Yemen, Syria and South Sudan.
“We must stop this dangerous trend. All warring parties must abide by their obligations under international law to allow humanitarian access. We also need to see an increase in funding from the international community to save more children’s lives.”
The charity’s mortality estimate includes 300,000 children in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where nutrition programmes run by aid organizations and the UN have less than 10 percent of the funding they need.
Some 35,000 malnourished children could also die in Yemen, where obstructions to deliveries of food and medicine by all sides – including a coalition of Arab states backed and armed by Britain – have pushed the country to the brink of famine.
But in the three states of northeast Nigeria hardest hit by conflict, Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, cases of untreated severe acute malnutrition are now estimated to fall to about 12,000 after two years of sustained action. While this is still troubling – about 2,000 of these children could be expected to die without treatment – it represents a substantial drop on previous years. In 2016, there were an estimated 300,000 untreated cases and 60,000 deaths in the three states.
Save the Children is appealing for urgent donations to help aid workers and local health partners reach more children through treatment and feeding programmes in war zones across the world. It takes 150 sachets of enriched peanut paste – at a cost of just £30 – to save a malnourished child’s life and help them recover.
The aid agency is calling on governments around the world to protect children in conflict – including from hunger – and to hold those responsible for blocking food and medicine to account.