Some 3.6 million people in South Sudan face severe food shortages – the highest levels ever experienced at harvest time – and the crisis is likely to worsen when food from the current harvest runs out next year, the UN food relief agency said on Friday.
The country descended into civil war in December 2013 when a row between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy, Riek Machar, ended with fighting that often erupted along ethnic fault lines. The conflict has stopped farmers from reaching their farms in several parts of the country, including the main food basket in the Greater Equatoria region.
"The scale of food insecurity remains unprecedented in South Sudan, despite seasonal improvements that are typical of the harvest season," the World Food Programme (WFP) said in its latest report.
The country's hunger levels have doubled since last year. Nearly 60 percent of the population of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State is affected, 56 percent in Unity, and 47 percent in Western Bahr el Ghazal, it said.
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The number of people facing severe hunger is expected to rise to 4.6 million between January and April next year and increase even more from May to July unless aid is scaled up, the WFP report said.
A peace deal was signed in 2015 but violations have been frequent and heavy fighting broke out again in July. Because of the conflict, more than a million people have fled to neighbouring countries and another 1.87 million are internally displaced.
The fighting and tumbling oil production and prices have hammered South Sudan's economy. Inflation shot to 835 percent in the year to October, while the official value of the currency has plummeted.
Conflict and insecurity have also cut off trade routes and disrupted imports.
Last month, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said there was a growing "risk of famine," especially among the country's most vulnerable communities.
Nigeria also needs more help
On Friday, the United Nations doubled its humanitarian funding appeal for northeast Nigeria to $1 billion in 2017 in a bid to reach nearly 7 million people hit by the Boko Haram attacks who need life-saving help.
The militant group has killed 15,000 people and displaced more than 2 million from their homes during a seven-year insurgency in Africa's most populous nation.
"That is a five-fold increase compared to the initial appeal of 2016. It is a more than doubling compared to the outcome appeal for 2016," said Peter Lundberg, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) deputy humanitarian coordinator, outlining the agency's 2017 plan.
The OCHA sought $484 million in 2016, having initially appealed for $248 million.