UN experts warn of "concrete risk of famine" in South Sudan

United Nations-backed experts say conditions may deteriorate in South Sudan where many are faced with starvation

Photo by: (photo: Mouhssine Ennaimi for TRT World)
Photo by: (photo: Mouhssine Ennaimi for TRT World)

A child suffering severe malnutrition is fed by medical volunteers in Minkamman, South Sudan, on March 3, 2014

Aid workers in war-torn South Sudan have reached one of the worst hit areas where thousands are feared dying of starvation, the United Nations said Tuesday, but warned conditions may yet worsen. Two teams of aid workers reached the town of Leer in southern Unity state, the UN said, scene of some of the heaviest fighting, including the mass abduction and rape of women and children.

"They brought with them life-saving supplies, including survival kits, high energy biscuits and blankets, to deliver to people in need who have been cut off from assistance since fighting resumed in October 2015," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report.

Civil war erupted in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.

Leer, Machar's home town, has swapped hands several times, with homes and the hospital torched.

In October, UN-backed experts warned of a "concrete risk of famine" in parts of Unity state before the end of the year if fighting continues, but there has been no let up in the conflict.

Specialist teams from Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) who visited areas at risk in Unity in mid-November found a grim situation in Guit, Koch and Mayendit districts.

An IPC report from November 20 based on that assessment mission warned "the situation is likely to deteriorate into famine in the absence of urgent and immediate humanitarian access."

With animals stolen, markets destroyed, no crops planted because of fighting, people in those zones are "entirely dependent" on water lilies and fish -- but even that food source will fade as the dry season approaches in January, the report read.

"There is a real risk that these households will have no access to any food at all by early next year," the report added.

The army and rebels have repeatedly accused each other of breaking an internationally-brokered August 26 ceasefire, the eighth such agreement aimed at ending the nearly two-year-long war.

Both sides are accused of having perpetrated ethnic massacres, recruited and killed children and carried out widespread rape, torture and forced displacement of populations to "cleanse" areas of their opponents.