UN report reveals fears of famine for 1.25 million people in war-torn South Sudan

Some 1.25 million people are facing starvation in war-torn South Sudan, double the number from the same time last year, according to a report by the United Nations and the country's government.

The country could once again plunge into famine in 2018, warn humanitarians and the government in a report released today.

"The widespread and extreme food consumption gaps ... should make us all extremely concerned about the worst case scenario of famine in many locations across South Sudan in 2018," said Katie Rickard, country coordinator for Reach, a humanitarian research initiative that provided data for the report.

Humanitarians blame the worsening situation on South Sudan's continuing conflict, which is nearing its fifth year and has killed more than 50,000 people.

In February, the world's youngest nation declared famine in two counties in Unity State, the world's first formal famine declaration since Somalia in 2011.

In South Sudan's two counties, 100,000 people were on the brink of starvation but thanks to early detection and a rapid response catastrophe was avoided, said the World Food Programme.

However, the latest food and security analysis update by the UN and South Sudan's National Bureau of Statistics is grim.

As of September, six million people, 56% of the population, were experiencing severe hunger with 25,000 South Sudanese in humanitarian catastrophe in Ayod and Greater Baggari counties.

South Sudan's widening war has made food production impossible and delivery of aid dangerous and difficult.

Both Ayod and Baggari are rebel-held areas and locals say the situation in the two counties is dire.

"We ran out because of the hunger," said a resident of Baggari who recently fled with his family to the nearby town of Wau because they did not have any food.

He spoke on condition of anonymity for his safety.

The 52-year-old father of four said people are "dying of hunger" and in the last year and a half he only saw humanitarians enter Baggari town three times.

"If the government doesn't approve of people coming in to help what can we do? We have nothing, we can just pray," he said.

The government says there is no policy of "discrimination" and it is committed to helping "all South Sudanese", said Isaiah Chol Aruai, chairman of the National Bureau of Statistics.

Rights groups are calling on all parties of the conflict to provide immediate and unfettered access to humanitarian agencies.

"Both government and opposition forces have used food as a weapon of war, ranging from restrictions to civilian access to food, actively preventing food from reaching certain areas, systematically looting food and markets and homes and even targeting civilians carrying small amounts of food across front lines," said Alicia Luedke, South Sudan researcher for Amnesty International.

On her first visit to the country in October, US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley raised concerns about humanitarian access during a meeting with South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, according to a statement by his office.

Mr Kiir told her that together with the United Nations, they have been able to establish "mechanisms to improve access", but acknowledged that more needs to be done.

As South Sudan enters the dry season, locals and aid workers are expecting the situation to get worse.


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