UN: Worst malnutrition since war is in besieged Syria suburb

The United Nations children's agency says the worst malnutrition rate since the start of the Syria conflict nearly seven years ago has been recorded in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, besieged since mid-2013.

Nearly half of the 400,000 people trapped in eastern Ghouta suburb, northeast of Damascus, are believed to be children, according to UNICEF.

The U.N. agency says Thursday a survey it conducted in the area in November found 11.9 percent of children under age 5 are suffering from acute malnutrition, a rise from only 2.1 percent according to a similar study in January.

UNICEF Regional Director Geert Cappelaere called for the lifting of the government-imposed siege.

The humanitarian call comes as U.N.-sponsored peace talks are underway in Geneva. The talks aim to bring the opposition and government face-to-face.