A famine has been declared in parts of South Sudan where an estimated 100,000 people face starvation, the United Nations warned on Monday. Millions more are on the brink of famine and are in need of urgent assistance. (more)
A joint report from the South Sudanese government and United Nations agencies estimated that some 4.9 million people, or 42 percent of the country's population, is severely food insecure after years of civil war and an economic collapse.
Famine, which means people are already dying of hunger, is affecting about 100,000 people in parts of Unity State in the north-central part of South Sudan. Other parts of the country also face severe food shortages and the number of people assessed as severely food insecure is expected to reach 5.5 million in July.
"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," said Serge Tissot of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "For months there has been a total reliance on whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch."
Tissot said that most people in the region are farmers and years of conflict has disrupted agriculture. "They've lost their livestock, even their farming tools," he said.
The food shortages are also taking a heavy toll on children as more than 1 million children across South Sudan are estimated to be acutely malnourished. "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," said Jeremy Hopkins of UNICEF.
The United Nations is calling for urgent action to help curb the severity and spread of the food crisis. Humanitarian assistance had previously managed to avoid famine conditions in Mayendit County, but Monday's report said this area is now experiencing famine.
"It is of paramount importance that assistance not only continues in 2017, but scales up in the face of mounting food insecurity across the country," the report said. "The expected response to famine-affected areas in Unity must not sacrifice much needed assistance to the other severely food insecure areas of the country."
South Sudan, which became the world's newest country when it broke away from Sudan in 2011, has witnessed widespread violence between rebel and government forces since an apparent coup attempt in December 2013.