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UNICEF, WFP rush to stop famine in South Sudan

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UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) are rushing aid to starving people in war-torn South Sudan.The fighting between the government and opposition forces has dramatically escalated hunger in the impoverished country. Over 1.5 million people have been displaced because of the conflict.

Reports from South Sudan are revealing one of the worst hunger emergencies of our time. In some states 60-75 percent of the population are suffering from severe hunger. Nearly four million people total are at risk of starvation. Many are in remote areas that are hard to reach because of the fighting and poor roads.

Joyce Luma, the WFP director in South Sudan, says, "Experienced humanitarian staff returning from deep field locations report conditions worse than they have ever seen." UNICEF and WFP have combined on a Rapid Response Mechanism to airlift aid into remote areas.

Almost one million children in South Sudan need treatment for severe or moderate malnutrition. Some have perished already. Many more will unless aid reaches them. UNICEF says at least 50,000 children will starve to death unless aid can be provided. Malnutrition causes physical and mental damage in small children if left untreated. The damage cannot be reversed so rapid aid is crucial.

Jonathan Veitch, the UNICEF representative in South Sudan, says, "Many people driven from their homes have to walk for days with nothing to eat before they reach towns like the state capital of Bentiu in the hope of finding assistance. Some of them, particularly children, arrive so badly malnourished there is nothing that can be done to save them."

Both UNICEF and WFP rely on voluntary funding. They are both short on funds to provide the life-saving aid in South Sudan. Both agencies are stretched thin on resources due to massive humanitarian emergencies in Central African Republic, Syria and other countries.

Congress will soon be deciding spending bills that will impact international disaster relief funding. UNICEF has set up a relief fund for South Sudan.

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