Famine has been declared in two counties of South Sudan, according to an announcement by the South Sudan government and three UN agencies, which says the calamity is the result of prolonged civil war and an entrenched economic crisis that has devastated the war-torn East African nation.
The official classification of famine highlights the human suffering caused by South Sudan’s three-year civil war and even as it is declared President Salva Kiir’s government is blocking food aid to some areas, according to UN officials.
More than 100,000 people in two counties of Unity state are experiencing famine and there are fears that the famine will spread as an additional 1 million South Sudanese are on the brink of starvation, said the announcement.
“Our worst fears have been realised,” said Serge Tissot, head of the Food and Agriculture Organization in South Sudan. He said the war has disrupted the otherwise fertile country, causing civilians to rely on “whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch.”
Roughly 5.5 million people, or about 50 per cent of South Sudan’s population, are expected to be severely food insecure and at risk of death in the coming months, said the report. It added that nearly three-quarters of all households in the country suffer from inadequate food.
If food aid does not reach children urgently “many of them will die,” said Jeremy Hopkins, head of the UN children’s agency in South Sudan. Over 250,000 children are severely malnourished Hopkins said, meaning they are at risk of death.
It is not the first time South Sudan has experienced starvation. When it fought for independence from Sudan in 1998, the territory suffered from a famine spurred by civil war. Anywhere from 70,000 to several hundred thousand people died during that famine.
But the declaration of starvation overnight is solely South Sudan’s creation, and a UN official blamed the country’s politicians for the humanitarian crisis.
Tens of thousands of people have died since civil war broke out in December 2013, and the UN warns that South Sudan is at risk of genocide. Since fighting in the capital of Juba killed hundreds of people in July, the war has uprooted more than 3 million people.
UN. officials have contested that hunger in South Sudan is even more shocking because of the country’s fertile land conditions. During her farewell briefing in November as head of the UN mission, Ellen Loj said that South Sudan has the resources and climate to feed itself.
“When I am flying up country I am always surprised to see all that fertile land and there is not anything,” Loj said. “You could feed yourself plenty and I hope peace will come to South Sudan.”