Two United Nations agencies are boosting their efforts to fight malnutrition amongst children in South Sudan in a desperate battle to avoid catastrophic loss of life.

UNICEF and the World Food Programme announced they are launching an enhanced joint nutrition response plan in an effort to assist over two million people for the treatment and prevention of acute malnutrition until May 2016. The initiative will support the whole of South Sudan, where a brutal conflict has displaced millions, destroyed basic services and increased disease.

According to the announcement, the nutrition response plan will work to address the root causes of malnutrition, such as poverty, inadequate water and sanitation, and infant and young child feeding practices.

The plan is an enhancement of the response the two agencies took last year which helped to prevent famine with rapid response teams in conflict-affected areas, reaching one million people. They also increased their presence in states which have not been directly affected.

“In the first year we worked under extremely difficult conditions to bring much needed nutrition assistance to as many people and as many places in the country as we possibly could,” said Joyce Luma, the World Food Programme country director and representative in South Sudan. “Looking forward, we want to improve on the quality of nutrition services to continue to prevent and treat acute malnutrition.”

The brutal conflict in South Sudan was triggered at the end of 2013 by a dispute between President Salva Kiir who is a member of the Dinka, the largest tribe in the country, and his former deputy, Riek Machar, a member of the second larger tribe, the Nuer.

Kiir claims that fighting between the two tribes was due to an attempted coup orchestrated by Machar but no evidence has been found to confirm this and Machar denies the charge. The civil war spread beyond the capital of Juba claiming the lives of tens of thousands and leaving over two million people displaced.

A peace agreement was signed at the end of August giving hope to the country but according to UNICEF, basic health and nutrition services remain out of reach for much of the population and basic services have been destroyed, including hospitals, clean water and nutrition treatment sites.