Famine threatens the lives of up to 5.5 million people in South Sudan, where droughts and flooding destroyed crops and livestock, compounding “intense political instability”, the United Nations warned.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) 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 famine in 2020 unless we take immediate action to expand deliveries in areas affected by floods and others affected by food loss,” Matthew Hollingworth, WFP country director, told Reuters.
“We need to pre-position food in the next two to three months,” he said, noting road access to many remote communities would be impossible after the rainy season started.
Government declared a state of emergency in October in Bahr El Ghazal, Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria after months of flooding, WFP said in a statement.
Nearly a million people are directly affected by floods and water has not receded in many places, it said.
“The scale of loss from the harvest is enormous,” Hollingworth said, speaking from Juba.
Fields with 73 000 tonnes of sorghum, millet and corn were lost as well as thousands of cattle, chickens and goats on which families depend for survival, he said.
Acute malnutrition rates in children under five have risen from 13% in 2018 to 16% this year, Hollingworth said, adding: “They are 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.
Inter-communal fighting also occurs in pockets hit by the flooding, Hollingworth said.
“Hunger and desperation bring instability when resources are stretched to the extent where an already unstable situation is worse. It is a wake-up call for us all,” he said.