Millions could die in South Sudan from unfolding famine

Millions could die in South Sudan from unfolding famine
Aid agencies and NGOs are urging countries to increase their support for South Sudan which is in the grip of a famine that could result in biblical-levels of starvation.
3 min read
South Sudan is on the verge of a catastrophic famine [AFP]

Famine in South Sudan and neighbouring countries could claim six million lives, a charity warned Friday, unless the international community immediately steps in to avert the catastrophe.

Aid agencies and NGOs are struggling to raise the $4.4 billion needed to prevent a full-blown disaster in the world's youngest country, which has been gripped by fighting since independence in 2011.

The $4.4 billion needed to avoid widespread loss of life must be collected by July, agencies say, but so far just 26 percent has been raised.

The food crisis in South Sudan is one of the key issues at this week's World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban, which has brought together the continent's business and political elite.

Saira Khan, the chief executive of the charity Stop Hunger Now Southern Africa, warned that inaction could result in millions of deaths.

"It's pretty gloomy. We're seeing a lot of confusion amongst the NGOs and governments in terms of what needs to be done," she said.

"It's a difficult time for that region - and if we don't do anything we're going to have six million people dead at the end of this year because of famine."

In February, South Sudan and the United Nations formally declared a famine in some parts of the northern Greater Unity region affecting 100,000 people, a disaster UN officials said was "man-made" and could have been averted.

This is largely the result of civil war that erupted in December 2013 when a power struggle erupted between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Tens of thousands died and more than 3.5 million have been displaced.

"The real instability in the area with the war and migrants just going and settling where they can has contributed to this and put enormous pressure on Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda," Khan said.

Oxfam International's executive director Winnie Byanyima told AFP that a huge funding shortfall for relief efforts was threatening lives.

"The need is huge, the gap is huge," Byanyima said. "It needs to be filled urgently. When people die in a famine it's a sign of failure because you can prevent it if you act early enough."

More than 1.9 million people are internally displaced and at least 1.7 million have fled to safety across the country's borders so far. A total of 830,000 South Sudanese refugees have fled to neighbouring Uganda and the UN expects this figure will reach more than a million by mid-year.

"I visited places where people are trapped in what are called 'protection of civilian' camps. The women there face a choice between hunger or stepping out and being raped while looking for food," Byanyima said.

Elsewhere in Africa, Byanyima warned that Nigeria could face its own famine crisis.

"I have just been to northeast Nigeria, a region that has been devastated by Boko Haram," she said.

"There are 47,000 people living there in famine-like conditions. Another five million could experience famine in the next few months".