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The South Sudanese government and three humanitarian agencies have declared a famine in some parts of the country as the newly independent nation struggle to bring oil back online.
This “man-made” human tragedy is a result of three-year civil war and has created an economic crisis of massive proportions, leaving nearly five million hungry.
The UN Mission in South Sudan says that 100,000 people in two counties of the northern Unity state are experiencing a famine and more than 30 percent of the population are suffering acute malnutrition. There are fears that the famine will spread as an additional 1 million South Sudanese are on the brink of starvation.
Unity state is South Sudan key oil-producing region, but production is hampered by civil war. Earlier this month, the authorities deployed more troops to secure the area for a resumption of production, which has been halted since December 2013.
“Some part of the northern Greater Unity region are classified in famine, or… risk of famine”, chairman of South Sudan’s National Bureau of Statistics Isaiah Chol Aruai said.
They also warned that, unless there is a rapid increase in humanitarian aid, 275,000 children are malnourished and their lives are at risk.
"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 a statement by the World Food Program (WFP), UN children's agency UNICEF and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
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“Our worst fears have been realized,” said Serge Tissot, head of the Food and Agriculture Organization in South Sudan. He said the war has disrupted the otherwise fertile country, causing civilians to rely on “whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch.”
This is not the first time South Sudan has faced starvation. Fighting for independence from Sudan in 1998, South Sudanese suffered famine and 70,000 to several hundred thousand people died.
UN officials blame South Sudan’s politicians for the current humanitarian crisis. According to UN officials, President Salva Kiir’s government is blocking food aid to some areas.
“This famine is man-made,” said Joyce Luma, head of the World Food Program in South Sudan. “There is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security.”
Somalia is the first African country to declare famine since 2011. Estimates shows that more than 250,000 people died between October 2010 and April 2012.
This proclamation came after international aid agencies are affected by catastrophes spreading in four countries. The UN warned that three other countries, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria, are also at risk of famine.
By Damir Kaletovic for Oilprice.com
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Damir Kaletovic is a veteran investigative journalist covering Europe and the Middle East, and a senior consultant for Divergente Research.