At least 40000 people are being starved to death in South Sudan war zones on the brink of famine, the UN said yesterday, pleading for rival forces to let in aid.
The figures released in a UN report describe some of the worst conditions in more than two years of a civil war marked by atrocities and accusations of war crimes, including blockading food supplies.
Conditions are “escalating”, the UN said, with more than 2.8million people needing aid.
“Nearly 25% of the country’s population remains in urgent need of food assistance and at least 40 000 people are on the brink of catastrophe,” the UN said.
“Families have been doing everything they can to survive but they are running out of options. Many of the areas where the needs are greatest are out of reach because of the security situation, with areas too dangerous to access.”
There has been no let up in the conflict. Some food has been delivered but civilians report dire conditions. The army and rebels have repeatedly accused each other of breaking an internationally brokered August ceasefire.
The UN classifies hunger on a scale of one to five. Level five is classified as a “catastrophe” and, when stretched to 20% of the population, becomes famine.
Those worst affected are in the northern battleground state of Unity, once the country’s key oil-producing region, but now the scene of some of the heaviest fighting, including the mass abduction and rape of women and children.
The counties of Mayendit, Koch, Leer and Guit are hardest hit, with people surviving by scavenging swamps for water lilies and fish.
Last week South Sudan legislators passed a controversial bill restricting numbers of foreign aid workers, sparking fears it will hinder efforts to help millions in need.
A UN aid chief said there were “wide-ranging and negative ramifications for the humanitarian operation at a time when needs are higher than ever”. The country also faces economic collapse with soaring inflation.