JUBA // South Sudan on Monday declared famine in some parts of the country, with more than three years of war leaving nearly five million hungry in what aid groups called a “man-made” tragedy.
Isaiah Chol Aruai, the chairman of South Sudan national bureau of statistics, said some counties of the northern Greater Unity region “are classified in famine, or ... risk of famine”.
Aid agencies said 100,000 people were affected by the famine, which threatened another one million people in the coming months.
“A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger. The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted more than three years ago,” said the joint press statement by the World Food Programme, UN children’s agency Unicef and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (Fao).
Oil-rich South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has been mired in civil war since 2013 after president Salva Kiir accused his rival and former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup against him.
An August 2015 peace deal was left in tatters when fighting broke out in Juba in July last year.
Since then the fighting has increasingly split the country along ethnic lines, leading the UN to warn of a potential genocide and ethnic cleansing, with no prospect of peace in sight.
The fighting has prevented many farmers from harvesting their crops while hyper inflation which reached more than 800 per cent last year has put the price of imported food beyond the reach of many. Parts of the country have also been hit by drought.
Mr Aruai said the impact of the war, combined with high food prices, economic disruption and low agricultural production have resulted in 4.9 million people going hungry between February and April, and that number is expected to rise to 5.5 million — or about 50 per cent of South Sudan’s population — by July.
“Famine has become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan and our worst fears have been realised,” said the South Sudan representative of Fao, Serge Tissot.
According to the UN, famine is declared when at least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages, acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent, and two or more people per 10,000 are dying per day.
“The main tragedy of the report that has been launched today ... is that the problem is man-made,” said Eugene Owusu, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan.
“The underlining drivers have been there for some time and we have all known that we have a major food crisis.”
The fighting has uprooted more than 3 million people and a UN report released on Monday said continuing displacement presented “heightened risks of prolonged [food] underproduction into 2018”.
* Agence France-Presse and Reuters