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UN leaders alarmed at hunger crisis in South Sudan

 Ertharin Cousin and Antonio Guterres said they were 'alarmed' at the scale of the humanitarian needs in South Sudan.
Ertharin Cousin and Antonio Guterres said they were 'alarmed' at the scale of the humanitarian needs in South Sudan.
WFP/Giulio d’Adamo

The leaders of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Refugee Agency (UNHCR) sounded the alarm yesterday on the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan.

Ertharin Cousin, WFP's director, and Antonio Guterres, UNHCR head, warned that millions of lives are at risk of hunger and disease in the conflict-torn country. The two directors were in South Sudan overseeing the humanitarian operation this week.

Cousin said yesterday, "Women we met in Nyal who have been affected by the conflict asked us to convey three messages to the world: they need peace, assistance to relieve their suffering, and the chance for their children to return to school. Ordinary people are bearing the brunt of this conflict, and agencies like ours are facing far too many obstacles in trying to assist them. This must change. Lives are at stake.”

Around 800,000 people have been displaced since fighting broke out in December between the government and opposition forces. Some have fled to neighboring countries while most have been displaced within South Sudan. They all are in need of food and other aid.

South Sudan was struggling with hunger and poverty even before the violence broke out. A UN report in February found, "the States most affected by the conflict (Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity) were also the most food insecure prior to the conflict. These are also the areas with the highest deficits in cereal production -- large amounts must be trucked in to supply markets. Even in good times, people in these states spend most of their income on food."

Now the situation is expected to get worse because food markets have been disrupted all across the country. In addition, WFP and other agencies are facing low funding. WFP's shortfall of funding in South Sudan is US $224 million over the next six months. What makes this even more difficult is that the UN is also facing major humanitarian emergencies in Central African Republic and Syria. WFP relies entirely on voluntary donations.

Guterres adds, “It is essential that the international community urgently comes together and does everything possible for the parties to forge peace. It is tragic to see former refugees who returned with so much hope once again fleeing for their lives.”