GENEVA (Reuters) – Famine threatens the lives of up to 5.5 million people in South Sudan, where droughts and flooding have destroyed crops and livestock, compounding “intense political instability”, the United Nations warned on Thursday.
A WFP (World Food Program) helicopter is seen on the flooded airstrip, after heavy rains and floods forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes, in the town of Pibor, Boma state, South Sudan, November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu/File Photo
The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said it needed $270 million urgently to provide food to hungry South Sudanese in the first half of 2020 and avert mass starvation in the world’s youngest country.
“Every factor is in place for there to be famine in 2020 unless we take immediate action to expand our deliveries in areas affected by floods and other areas affected by food loss,” Matthew Hollingworth, WFP country director, told Reuters.
“We need to pre-position food around the country in the next two to three months,” he said, noting that road access to many remote communities would be impossible after the rainy season sets in.
The government declared a state of emergency in late October in Bahr El Ghazal, Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria after months of flooding, WFP said in a statement.
Nearly 1 million people are directly affected by the floods and the waters have not receded in many places, it said.
“The scale of the loss from the harvest is enormous,” Hollingworth said, speaking by telephone from Juba.
Fields with 73,000 tonnes of sorghum, millet and corn have been lost as well as tens of thousands of cattle, chickens and goats on which families depended for survival, he said.
Acute malnutrition rates in children under the age of five have risen from 13% in 2018 to 16% this year, Hollingworth said, adding: “They have gone above the global emergency threshold of 15%.”
Water-borne diseases are spreading, although no cholera has been detected, he said.
“It can only get worse because of the situation and environment people are living in,” he said.
Civil war broke out in oil-producing South Sudan in 2013, less than two years after the country gained independence from Sudan following decades of war. The conflict that has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions from their homes.
Inter-communal fighting still occurs in pockets hit by the flooding, Hollingworth said.
“Hunger and desperation bring instability when resources are stretched to the extent that makes an already unstable situation much worse. It is a wake-up call for us all,” he said.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson