Three UN Agencies on Monday has warned that war and a collapsing economy have left some 100,000 people in starvation in parts of South Sudan, with an additional one million people on the brink of famine.
In a jointed statement, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP) warned that urgent action is needed to prevent more people from dying of hunger.
According to the statement, “If sustained and adequate assistance is delivered urgently, the hunger situation can be improved in the coming months and further suffering mitigated.”
The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity of the food crisis.
The famine is the first to be declared since 2011 in Somalia, where more than a quarter of a million people are estimated to have died between October 2010 and April 2012, Guardian reported.
An Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released on Monday by the government, the three agencies and other humanitarian partners, revealed that about 4.9 million people – over 40% of South Sudan’s population, are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.
Famine, the Agencies said, is currently affecting parts of Unity State in the northern-central part of the country. A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger. The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted over three years ago.
The UN agencies however noted that, further spread of famine can be prevented if humanitarian assistance is scaled up and reaches the most vulnerable.
FAO representative in South Sudan, Serge Tissot, said: “Famine has become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan and our worst fears have been realized. Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive.
“The people are predominantly farmers and war has disrupted agriculture. They’ve lost their livestock, even their farming tools. For months there has been a total reliance on whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch.”
Malnutrition is a major public health emergency, exacerbated by the widespread fighting, displacement, poor access to health services and low coverage of sanitation facilities.
The IPC report estimates that 14 of the 23 assessed counties have global acute malnutrition at or above the emergency threshold of 15%, with some areas as high as 42%.
According to UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, Jeremy Hopkins, “More than one million children are currently estimated to be acutely malnourished across South Sudan; over a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished. If we do not reach these children with urgent aid many of them will die.”
WFP country director Joyce Luma said: “This famine is man-made. WFP and the entire humanitarian community have been trying with all our might to avoid this catastrophe, mounting a humanitarian response of a scale that quite frankly would have seemed impossible three years ago.
“But we have also warned that there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve.”
U.N agencies and other partners have conducted massive relief operations since the conflict began, and intensified those efforts throughout 2016 to mitigate the worst effects of the humanitarian crisis. In Northern Bahr El Ghazal state, among others, the IPC assessment team found that humanitarian relief had lessened the risk of famine there.
In 2016, WFP said it reached a record 4 million people in war-ravaged South Sudan with food assistance, including cash assistance amounting to US$13.8 million, and more than 265,000 metric tons of food and nutrition supplies. This is reportedly the highest largest number of people assisted by WFP in South Sudan since independence from neighboring Sudan in July 2011.